We all make mistakes, sometimes we don't even realize when we are making one! Over the past three years I have found and come to terms with some of the following mistakes that I vow never to make again at the playground. I'll start with the biggest one I have ever made (and sometimes continue to make);
1. Letting the kids run straight onto the playground
In reality we as parents should be doing a better job of checking the playgrounds first for broken equipment, broken glass, and other safety concerns. I do my due diligence and walk around picking up the odd piece of glass AFTER my feet hit the mulch, but I know I could do a better job of scouting the area BEFORE my toddler beelines it for the slide! And yes, rubber gloves are in my playground summer kit.
You can read more about all season playground safety on Durham Region Health.
2. Forcing kids to share
"Oh honey give the other child a turn." or "In five minutes, let's try giving someone else a turn." are very common phrases I hear other parents echo at the playground. I found this tactic in the past has resulted in tears from my toddler (if they were the one being required to dismount the popular playground equipment that had formed a queue) or misunderstanding as to how long five minutes actually was when they were waiting for their turn.
This summer I'm trying a different approach and that is one of letting the child using the equipment 'finish their turn'. It works well for us and usually goes something like this; "When they are done using the swing it will be your turn." to which most young kids jump happily off very shortly after and SHARE ALL BY THEMSELVES saying "I'm done, it's your turn now!" (imagine that, not forcing it actually results in genuine offers and real sharing most of the time!) AND if the odd kid refuses we just move on and say "ok we will come back when they are done playing with that."
As this article from the Washington Post suggests, most phases of "It's mine!" and not sharing are short lived in the younger years.
3. Don't let our kids push their own limits
I let my kids climb, run, jump, and really stretch their limits on what they think they can and cannot do at the playground. I will be close by if it is something new, but a bit further if I know they have tried it before successfully (like jumping from one toadstool to another). I also will only hold their hands and help when they ask me to and I don't offer it up first. It builds their confidence, coordination, and risk assessment skills at a younger age.
If you'd like to learn more about letting kids take their own risks, you can read Raising Children Who Soar, or this paper they produced on Helping Children Take Good Risks.
4. Not letting kids climb slides
I certainly let them!
It is challenging, fun, and again linked to developing risk assessment. Now I do have to set some ground rules for this activity at our local playgrounds and they are as follows;
To read more about the benefits of climbing slides check out this Pediatric Occupational Therapy site.
5. We don't let them just play!
Unstructured play is very healthy, especially for younger children. Let them get creative and figure out how to use playground equipment on their own, or with a new purpose (see 'climbing slides'). When kids are let loose to just play as they see fit without intervention, guidance, or structure placed on them from adults, they learn to use their imagination and critical thinking skills. This is one of the reasons we don't over-schedule organised sports in our household.
A fellow Playground Writer of Canada at Pickle Planet Moncton wrote a great piece on unstructured play recently that is definitely worth a read!
6. Not helping other kids out (when asked)
I've been known to give a little one a hand to help them up steps every now and then when they ask for help after seeing me help my little ones. I do this to help other parents out who may be busy with older kids, or had their toddler run away from them WAY too quickly when they arrived at the park. We are all living in a community and should help each other out every now and then, right? This also includes stepping up if we see a stranger or someone out of character approaching lone kids on the playground.
7. Not disciplining other kids (when needed)
I'm a firm believer that this needs to be done more often at the playground. I'm not talking about time outs, or serious discipline but rather a verbal explanation of behaviour and etiquette when warranted. Some parents will balk at this suggestion and get defensive that their little angels should not be talked to by other parents at the park. I'm of the belief that if anyone is running wild with disreguard and bowling over the little kids or pushing their way to the top of the slide that I am certainly in a position to say something to said child. Misbehaviour at the playground is definitely unacceptable in my books especially if others have the potential to be injured.
A former teacher wrote a great piece for the Globe and Mail with tactics and words he used that really resonate with me (and I keep them in my back pocket for those days in the near future that I will inevitably be dishing out some 'community discipline' at the playground).
8. Getting involved in kid to kid conflicts
Act like Switzerland and stay NEUTRAL! They'll eventually figure something out on their own. Let's face it we wouldn't be preparing them for the great big scary world if we keep intervening to settle their disputes right? I know I won't be the parent showing up at high school to explain why dear daughter didn't do her project that week. Nope. Sorry. Too bad so sad. She is going to learn how to settle her own issues from a young age.
I will only get involved if things threaten anyone's safety at the playground (see the previous item on 'disciplining other kids'). The best we can do is outfit our children with the proper tools to negotiate fairly and peacefully.
See Playworks Four Conflict Resolution Techniques for School Aged Children for some good tools.
9. Not giving ourselves as parents a break
The kids are playing, you are tired, and you want them to burn off their energy at the park before going home. You are NOT a bad parent for checking out and taking a break. You DESERVE it! Those park benches are there to be used so park yourself on one within eyesight of your kids and check your email, post on social media or just tune out for a few clicks. Remember, with the other tactics listed previously you shouldn't need to intervene or keep such a close eye on the kids as they get older right?
Next time you catch yourself making one of these 'mistakes' at the playground just relax, find a bench and unwind.