Playground Prowess: Etiquette for Park Outings
What do you do with kids who have more energy than you do? Take them to the playground of course! What better place is there to run off energy, scream, yell, throw sand, chase each other with shovels and generally make nuisances of oneself while a caregiver (be it mom, dad or the kid next door who was hired for the job) cowers on the shady bench and pretends they don't notice a thing?
The playground is a wonderful place. It truly is. Parks are designed for children to build muscles, experiment with balance, swing freely and learn to play together. For some children, the playground is the first place they learn about taking turns and making friends. Which is why parents shouldn't just turn their kids loose while they chat on their iphone.
What's that? You don't see anything wrong with turning kids loose? Haven't you ever read Lord of the Flies? Maybe kids aren't quite ready to turn savage in an afternoon, but without a little input from the parental units, their inner savages start to take over. And the other parents don't appreciate an absentee caregiver.
Of course, no one appreciates the helicopter parent either. There's a fine balance to the political scene of your local playground. But whether you're a natural hoverer, or prefer to tune out, there are a few playground rules for you and your beloved offspring to follow. Unless you want the other parents to whisper about those savage hooligans, that is...
Do your kids like to play in the sand?
Sand Toy Rules
There are two hard and fast rules that come with sand toys. The first rule is that sand toys are for sharing. It's much more fun to build a sand castle with friends. Expect your sand toys to trade grubby little hands repeatedly during your visit to the park. Prepare your kids for the possibility that other children will want to use the sand toys, too. If there's a problem, sit down in the sand and dig alongside your child. Let your creative side flow. Encourage the kids who come running to help you build.
Rule number two is don't snatch. Yes, sand toys are for sharing. But, it's important to ask first. Toddlers may become over attached to a shovel. It's not worth fighting over, there are plenty of toys to go around. After all, sand toys are for sharing, right?
There is one more bit of sand etiquette. Wet sand makes molding and shaping infinitely easier. Kids frequently fill their buckets, sand molds, water bottles and any other water carrying device from a nearby drinking fountain. This is fine. But it's important to make sure the kids know that sand is damaging to fountains and sinks. So it's okay to carry water from the fountain. It's not okay to dump sand in the fountain.
If your sand toys need to be washed before you leave the park, fill your bucket up and swish them off. Then swish out the bucket and dump it on the grass or in the sand (where more kids will quickly descend on the wet area and begin building a new castle). Instead of rinsing your children's hands and feet off in the bathroom sink or at the water fountain, fill your bucket with water and rinse them over the grass or the sand.
If everyone treated the water fountains and bathroom sinks respectfully, it would cut down on maintenance costs to the city and provide a consistently pleasant park experience. After all, no one wants to use a water fountain that's over flowing, or a sink filled with stagnant water.
Slides are for Sitting
Big kids love to race up the slides. They pound to the top, defying gravity and exploring the principles of friction and velocity. Big kids risk only a scraped knee or a few bruises.
Little kids like to do what the big kids do. They especially like to try out new things, and climbing up the slide just looks like so much fun. (After all, if you start at the bottom, you get to skip the long line on the other side.) But a little kid who falls from the top of a slide is falling farther than their own height. They aren't as big as big kids, and are more likely to actually tumble head over heels rather than slipping and sliding. They also don't have nearly the same control over their bodies.
In other words, going up a slide is much more dangerous for little kids than big kids.
Polite parents remind their older children to sit on the slide as an example to the little kids at the park. Going up the slide encourages the little ones to get hurt, and risks running into another kid who was using the slide appropriately. The smaller one is the one most likely to get hurt. So sit on the slides. At least the big and windy ones.
If you must climb up, do it when the little ones aren't around to see.
The Most Common Childhood Allergies
- Wheat (this includes enriched white flour)
- Tree nuts (almond, walnut, pecan, pistachio)
- Fresh Fish (There aren't many fishy kid snacks)
Other common allergens: Corn, citrus, strawberries, chocolate, sesame seeds
Keep Your Snacks to Yourself
Sharing might be fine and dandy for the sand toys, but when it comes to snacks, don't offer them up freely. It may go against everything mother ever taught you about good manners, but the fact is that food allergies are skyrocketing among the preschooler crowd. Sharing a simple goldfish could result in a traumatic epipen stabbing and heart-pounding race to the hospital. (I've actually witnessed this, it's not conjecture.) So don't offer snacks to any kids but your own without parental approval. Ask specifically if there are any food allergies. Dads and babysitters are notorious for saying "Oh sure, thank you," without thinking that those raisins might have originally come from a trail mix containing nuts.
It's not just about allergies. Some parents would rather their kids not snack between meals, or try to limit certain snacks. Offering a kid something their parent has just firmly told them they can't have undermine's the parent's authority and whatever lesson they were trying to teach.
So bring snacks, but don't share them freely. Ask the parents, not the children, if there are any food allergies and if it's okay to share. It might feel more awkward than just handing out granola bars, but other parents will appreciate the gesture. And it's lighter on your budget, too.
Get Involved...Let the Kids Work it Out Together
Kids being kids, there will be playground disagreements. The park may be an area of play; but not every child will have the same ideas about what to play. They will argue about who gets to be queen, where the imaginary island is located, which kid gets to ride the seahorse totter toy and who should search for magical acorns. Someone's feelings are going to get hurt when a sandcastle gets stepped on, or a thoughtful helper 'improves' a perfected sand sculpture.
As an observant, involved parent it's easy to want to step in and prevent tragedy or jump in and start yelling at that Big Bully who is calling all the shots in the game. Stop. Take a deep breath. Instead of jumping in and yelling at someone else's kid, ask yours what they feel and if what Big Bully is doing is right. They might not care. In which case, neither should you.
They might care. But that's still no reason for you to jump in just yet. Instead, ask your child what they think should happen to make things go better. They might have some interesting ideas. As a responsible parent, you will of course nix the ones involving the throwing of sand or acorns or "seed bombs" to hurt Big Bully. You need to encourage the ones that involve things like walking away and saying "We don't want to play that way anymore."
It's not always possible to stay in the sidelines. As a parent, you do need to step in when someone is doing something that could immediately harm another child, even if none of the kids are involved. When you step in, parenting rules dictate that you keep your hands off other people's kids. Do not grab that arm that is thrust back in preparation to launch a volley of pebbles. Instead, hold your hand up and say "Whoa, no throwing things around the little kids." If the big ones are becoming too rough and tumble in the tot lot and you fear your toddler will be squashed or traumatized a simple reminder that "Hey guys, there's little kids here." is sufficient. Any parent who is responsible for the hooligans will perk up when they hear you address their children and the simple stating of facts will make them realize their kids are getting out of control.
If it doesn't, well, the kids will be chagrined that an adult chastised them and start giving you a wide berth.
On that note...be involved to a degree. You don't have to hover on the playground, the bench is a much more comfortable spot. And there's nothing wrong with reading a book or checking a few e-mails. But in between texts and phone calls, it's important to check in with your kids, make sure that they are behaving appropriately and that they haven't developed any crazy notions about climbing to the top of a decorative trestle.