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Managing the unwritten rules of the playground — Good Parenting

Playground ropesDear Dr. Debbie,

I take my children, ages 2 and 4, to our community playground where they sometimes play with children we don’t know. It’s awkward, but I frequently step in to guide behavior if the other parent/grandparent/nanny doesn’t. I feel that a gentle suggestion to a misbehaving child is better than to remove my child/children from the playground. It’s usually well received by the children, but other moms have told me they just leave if they think their children are being mistreated by other children.

What do you think?

There for All the Children

Don’t miss last week’s column Explaining the gender identification bathroom issue to kids — Good Parenting

Dear TAC,

Obviously you consider yourself and your children to be part of “the village” and therefore are committed to working things out with the other villagers. Good for you!

Perhaps more adults would step in if they realized that there are unwritten universal playground rules that are good for everyone to follow. When the rules are agreeably shared by all, caregiving — including discipline — becomes a group activity to the benefit of adults and children alike.

  1. In general, it’s fun to play with other children. So introduce yourselves and have fun!
  2. Toys that are brought to the park should be shared.
  3. Lovies that are brought to the park (those special objects that are irreplaceable) should go into the adult’s pocket or bag. They might get dirty, lost, or worse, claimed by another young child. Ideally, the lovey should be left in the car, or better yet, at home.
  4. Before sharing food, the permission of a caregiver is required. Adults are aware of allergies and the meal plans for the day. If the answer is yes, offer to share the hand sanitizer, too. Food can be a great friendship starter.
  5. If you don’t like what another person is doing, try to talk it out or play elsewhere. The playground is a big place.
  6. Adults should be in charge of sizing up danger. They should set up a safety zone around the swings, declare “down only” for a slide or insist on no throwing sand. Some playgrounds have safety rules posted that are stated simply enough for early readers to understand. If not, consider organizing a group of invested adults to do this.
  7. Adults are more aware of what’s fair than preschoolers. The adult should suggest to his or her child, “How about he picks the name for the ship you’re building and you pick the continent you’re sailing to?” Conflict resolution through compromise increases as children learn from adults’ examples and suggestions.
  8. Some spaces and equipment can only be used by one person at a time. This may be for safety or comfort. Adults can help keep track of turn taking until the children catch on.
  9. If someone is in a bad mood — angry or just whiney — it might not be a good time to play together. See rule No. 5.
  10. Leave things ready for the next child to play. For example, if some sticks or wood chips have been used for a “tea party” on top of the climber, they need to be returned to where they came from when the play is over.

Community playgrounds should be be visited regularly by young children and their caregivers. They offer wide open space for freedom of movement, open-ended play equipment such as climbers and sand to stimulate the imagination, and chance encounters with other children and grownups that might blossom into long term friendships. Uphold the civility that these wonderful places can impart by playing by the unwritten rules.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected]

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