Do you helicopter or are you more “free range” when at the park with your little ones? Do you follow little Mary around the playground to make sure she’s playing nice with others and not inflicting bodily harm? Or do you prefer to sit on the bench, take a deep (much deserved) breath, and relax? Perhaps you’re a bit of both? When I first started taking my son to the park, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do when he would go up to another little kid and rip a truck out of his hands. Or worse, kick sand in someone’s face. Ack! I find on a daily basis it’s difficult to walk the line of intervention. How much should they figure out on their own? How often should you guide the way? There’s no manual for this! (File this under things no one tells you about parenting.)
Well, two kids later, and with many a park trip under my belt, I feel I’m better equipped to navigate the unseen intricacies of park etiquette. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Always ask permission
Your daughter spots a ride-on tricycle from at least 100 feet away. The owner of said tricycle is enjoying digging some sand with his mom in a nearby sand box. Your daughter, a shrewd observer, makes a bee-line for the trike. Within seconds, an altercation occurs. What to do? Ignore? Take your daughter away from the trike (guaranteeing a full-on tantrum)? My best advice here is to approach the mom first and ask if it’s OK if your daughter sits on the trike for awhile. I find most people respond well to this, and usually it’s not a big deal. I have, however, encountered some people who just don’t want to share. Which leads me to my next point.
Bring a toy to the park? Then it’s a toy to be shared with everyone!
My kids are debriefed before we head to the park. If they insist on bringing a special something to the park, I make it extremely clear that once it’s in the park, they will have to share it with the other kids. If they don’t feel like sharing that particular toy, we leave it at home. Simple.
Hitting and other such uncomfortable realities
If your child never went through this phase, congratulations! You have won some type of parenting lottery. Most parents I know have gone through the “hitting” phase with their kids, and there’s no way around it. It’s just plain uncomfortable. There’s nothing worse than seeing your child wallop another. Swift action is needed. I always approach the scene of the crime, apologize to the kid and/or parent, and then I make my own child apologize and give an apology hug for good measure. I then explain to my child that if I see it happen again, we will leave the park. It’s important to note that you better be ready to carry through on your promise. Since being at the park is almost as good as eating ice cream, this seems to work well. Following through is key. If you don’t stop this behavior in its tracks, every subsequent visit to the park will be veiled in fear (mostly your own).
Dealing with the absentee parent
We’ve all seen it before. There’s a kid at the park who’s running wild, hitting others, and wreaking havoc in general. You look around… where is his parent? You spot him off in the back, sitting on a bench, deep into his iPhone. As a big believer in the philosophy of “it takes a village,” I don’t hesitate to go up to the child in question and nicely tell him or her that “hitting is not nice and makes XX sad. Please don’t do it again.” I have friends who have confronted the parent in question, but I find this strategy generally doesn’t go as well.
So, have I missed anything? Are visits to the park trouble free for you? How do you manage your little ones at the playground?