If you have ever taken a kid to the playground, you know playground politics is a thing. And I am not talking about the kids; I am talking about the parents. Because a trip to the park usually involves you and your kid interacting with other kids and their parents or caretakers, which can sometimes get a little problematic. Oh, the kids are usually fine… It’s the parents that need to CTFD at playgrounds.
Generally speaking, the playground is an ideal place for kids to get their energy out and give parents and caretakers a little reprieve. A park is usually a safe environment for children to explore, learn, use their imaginations, and meet new friends. But kids will be kids, and there is bound to be a problem here and there when there is more than one or two.
Kids will inevitably throw sand, fight over toys, run up the slide the wrong way, hog the swing, and a list of mostly minor infractions. Moreover, some kids like to play in a quiet corner of the sandbox all to themselves. Some kids like to socialize and find new friends to play with. Other kids just need to jump, climb and run on every surface in the park. And all these different personalities don’t always mix well.
Most of the time, kids manage to figure it out themselves, or parents can minimally interject and redirect kids back to playing. But I can almost guarantee that most parents have either witnessed or participated in a park altercation at least once or twice. Because there are always those few parents that just love to cause a problem and keep other parents from enjoying what little break they can manage while their kids play at the park.
Look, I get it…We can all be a little protective of our kids. We want to keep them safe, happy and make their lives as easy as possible. And it’s no surprise that parents can also get a little defensive when it seems like someone is judging their parenting skills. And any combination of these two things can lead to some major tension between parents.
But most parents just want to keep the drama to a minimum and let kids get their ridiculous levels of energy out. So, here are a few rules that can help keep playground politics to a minimum and help parents CTFD…
Give kids space to be kids.
A playground is a prime place for kids to learn how to function in the world. They learn how to deal with conflict, negotiate what they want, make friends, and interact with different personalities. As long as no one is being bullied, intentionally harmed, or put in harm’s way…let kids be.
A park is also a place where kids should get the opportunity to engage in a little risky play and try out some new motor skills. So, as long as no one’s safety is at risk, it’s okay if a kid wants to run up the slide or walk on the monkey bars. When else do kids get the opportunity to freely climb, run and jump off of things. Let them enjoy it.
Don’t be the playground police.
For some reason, there always seems to be a parent who feels it is their god-given right to determine the park’s rules and let everyone know what they should and shouldn’t be doing. When they see a kid run up the slide, they will immediately call out, “No running up the slide!” And they are usually quick to point out if they think another parent needs to pay more attention to their kid, even if the kid is fine and in their parent’s eyesight.
Do children need guidance? Absolutely. I am definitely not advocating for a “Lord of the Flies”-type situation here. A parent should absolutely step in if a child is being bullied or someone’s safety is at risk. But for the most part, you should expect to only enforce your rules with your children.
Avoid parenting kids that are not yours.
You are in charge of the kids that you bring to the park. If you don’t know a kid or their parent, you should avoid parenting that child. The only exception is if that kid is bothering or hurting, bullying or endangering someone. Otherwise, it’s just not your place. And I think most parents would agree with that.
Now the flip side of that coin is you can’t be a fully absentee parent at the park. It’s not ok to bring your hyped-up kid to the park and then fully checkout on your cell phone. If your kid is being a jerk, you need to step up or don’t get your panties in a wad when another parent does. It goes both ways.
Save the judgmental side-eye for somewhere else.
No parent is coming to the park to be judged by another parent. Playgrounds should be a judgment-free zone because, at the end of the day, we all just want our kids to burn off some energy while we manage to get a few moments to breathe. Don’t side-eye me when my crazy kid does a backflip off of the monkey bars and I won’t side-eye you for following right behind your kid the entire time you are at the park.
Just give other parents grace because you have no idea what they may be dealing with. You never know what kind of day someone is having. You don’t know if a parent is apprehensive about how their neurodivergent kid may be perceived. And that chatty mom may just need one adult conversation to get her through the rest of the day.
The bottom line is the last thing any parent should have to worry about is playground politics. Most parents just want to let their kids tire themselves out just in time for naptime or bedtime. So, let’s all agree to follow these simple rules and CTFD at playgrounds.