Should Our Sons Play With Toy Guns Outdoors?

A reader worries that allowing her sons to play-fight in the yard sends the wrong message to neighbors.,

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My husband and I disagree about whether toy guns are appropriate for our kids and under what circumstances they may be used. Last weekend, our two young sons were given water guns as gifts, which they quickly put to use outdoors. They played with the toy guns as if they were real — shouting “Bang!” when they fired them and collapsing onto the ground when they were hit. I’m afraid that even toy guns send a message of insensitivity to our neighbors during this time of persistent mass shootings. My husband disagrees, and the boys continue to use the guns outdoors. Am I overreacting?

MOM

I respect your desire to be a good neighbor. But in your quest, you seem to have skipped over the bigger question here: Should your sons be playing with toy guns at all? You may not have bought them — and your husband may find them harmless — but that doesn’t settle the matter.

Personally, I don’t think anyone should become desensitized to the act of pointing a gun at another person (even if the gun is made of chocolate). Life and limb are precious! I also acknowledge, though, that as a young boy my brother turned practically any item he picked up — pencils, carrots, action figures — into a make-believe gun, and nothing my parents said stopped him. Play is complicated.

Take another crack at explaining your concerns about gunplay to your husband. Wouldn’t the boys have just as much fun with water balloons? If you can’t agree, you and your husband should have a serious talk with your sons about guns. Set some firm ground rules for using the water guns, starting with: You may never leave the yard with them, and you may never point them at anyone without their permission.

As for sensitivity to your neighbors, again, look homeward. If you think the boys are old enough, start with a family discussion where you invite them to share what they know (and how they feel) about mass shootings. Then take it from there. An age-appropriate conversation about gun violence and the steps we can take — even in play — to make everyone safer may improve the situation on your lawn.

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Credit…Christoph Niemann

Not Even a ‘Get Well Soon’?

I live in a gated community. Some of us women started a monthly get-together to share recommendations and details about upcoming events. A month ago, I suffered a heart attack one Saturday morning. I’m sure my neighbors saw the ambulance and fire truck in our driveway! On my return from the hospital, only two of the 40 members of the group contacted me. (Some of them now ignore me when they walk past my home.) I have gone out of my way for many of these women. I know enough not to blame myself, but I don’t know what to do with my disappointment. Am I being a Karen?

ANONYMOUS

I’m sorry your neighbors haven’t lived up to your expectations. Don’t underestimate the distancing effects of the pandemic and, more likely, your neighbors’ desire to respect your privacy about a health crisis. You don’t mention telling anyone about your heart attack.

If you want to talk about it, bring it up. As for neighbors who “ignore” you now, I suspect that some are unsure about broaching the subject of your illness. I’m not blaming you for your feelings. But neighbors walk a fine line between support and discretion. By raising the subject yourself, you can help them land on the side you prefer.

Where Dogs Rule

A few years ago, I was attacked by a dog. It permanently disfigured my leg. I’ve since moved to a city where attitudes toward dogs are comparatively lax. Owners let their dogs off-leash in areas where it’s illegal. I’ve been growled at by aggressive dogs. And last week, a large dog jumped on me — while it was on a leash. The owners playfully scold their dogs or assure me they’re friendly. Meanwhile, I’m forced to relive the trauma of my attack. I bite my tongue and move on rather than yell at strangers. But I’m tired of avoiding parks and yielding to unruly dogs. Your thoughts?

MELANIE

Dog owners are always responsible for controlling their dogs in public. Unfortunately, though, authorities are seldom around when owners fail to behave properly. So, I suggest a middle ground between biting your tongue (useless!) and yelling at people (which can needlessly escalate problems).

Say directly, but not angrily: “Please get your dog under control. I don’t want contact with it.” Careless owners may think you’re a meanie, but responsible ones will know you’re right and appreciate the warning.

The Missing Invite

I’ve been going out with a guy for almost three months. Things seem to be going really well. So, I was surprised that he didn’t invite me to Easter dinner with his family. I’ve been edgy about this, but I haven’t said anything to him. Should I?

AMIE

It’s always nice to be included. But “almost three months” is very brief in the grand scheme of things. If I were you, I’d let Easter slide. Focus on deepening your relationship, and see what happens on the Fourth of July.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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