Q. I have a 6-year-old who badly wants a gun. "All the other kids have them."

I hate them and have refused to buy one. Is my denial of this macho metaphor for murder going to turn my kid into a misanthrope?

Will he grow up a -- albeit peace-loving -- sissy?

Or are play guns harmless for kids?

A. Having finally learned what misanthrope means, the answer is no, your son won't hate everybody.

Nor will he be a sissy if he can't have a gun. He'll just have to tell his friends that his mom is weird, and that's all right. A child doesn't mind being different if he doesn't have to accept responsibility for it. It also helps him realize that parents, like children, have the right to be original.

He probably doesn't know it now, when conformity is so important, but this is an essential lesson. Families must be true to their own peculiarities and their own standards even when they don't fit in with the latest fad.

All the other kids may have the shoes to suit every sport -- tennis shoes, deck shoes, running shoes and no doubt hopping shoes -- but it doesn't mean your child must have all of them too. Nor will he be allowed to ride a bike on the city streets at 10, or hang out at the mall at 12, or party on school nights at 14 or 16, just because the other kids do.

If your standards are important to you, it's your duty to pass them on to your child, no matter what anybody else says or does.

In time your views about guns probably will be accepted, or at least considered, for a child listens more to his parents than anyone else -- especially if they listen to him.

The results are worth the effort.

It's much easier to enjoy the company of the boy (and one day the man) if you have learned tolerance for each other, as well as respect. The values you have in common will seal the bond. He won't accept them all -- no two people ever have exactly the same ones -- but discussions and arguments will help him reach his own point of view. The child with no abrasion in his life has no zest for living.

There is no need to feel guilty for saying no. When the wishes of a child conflict with the beliefs of a parent, those wishes are not fulfilled.

However, if you won't let your son have a toy gun -- and I wouldn't -- he still will play with other children when they play with guns, and you can't do much about that. If you said no he would do it anyway, which would teach him to be sneaky.

No matter how patiently you explain your position, you can't expect your child to understand, because your minds don't work the same way.

When you think of a gun you think of that huge noise; the kick of the revolver; the great outpouring of blood; the end of a life. It is almost impossible to imagine.

A 6-year-old doesn't even try. To him, death is unreal, unbelievable. This child, at one of the most egocentric times of his life, can't understand what you're talking about, because he can't empathize yet.

He just wants to act like everyone else, and they act the way they do, not because they have toy guns, but because warfare is in the nature of those little beasties.

A parent who has reared a boy and a girl side by side is often amazed to watch the sexes part: a process that begins about now. No matter how evenhanded you have been, it still occurs. A daughter may climb the highest trees in the neighborhood and a son will be delighted to bake a cake, but they are different in battle.

Girls tend to use their wits -- and some ferocious name-calling -- when they fight, but boys are apt to go straight to war. Sometimes it is in anger, but usually it is simply exhilaration.

If guns weren't the fad, they would be shooting with their index fingers; playing kung fu or cops and robbers; using sticks for swords and charging at each other like wrestling knights, or just having a plain old fist fight.

Almost all of them play at war when they're little and some of them never stop. Perhaps it's just as well. Somebody has to run the Pentagon.