With the arrival of summer comes the onslaught of children and parents to the local playgrounds. What can be more innocent than the sound of laughter and children making new friends and playing together at the park? Not a whole lot. These lazy days are sure to be the foundation of fond memories for you and your children.
Going to the park might seem like a simple task, but that’s not really true when it comes to taking your children out of the house period. Everytime you leave with a toddler or small child, you’re sure to need a number of things just to get out the door, whether you intended to bring them with you or not. In that spirit, you should know that a trip to the park is surely going to involve more than just grabbing a jacket and putting on some shoes.
And with the onslaught of children and parents at the park, there are some unwritten rules that go along with being there and enjoying the spaces. To gain maximum enjoyment out of your local playground this summer, for your child and yourself, here is a list of the biggest mistakes we might make, as parents, and how to overcome them to ensure we all have a nice day spent at the park.
10 Equip For Sensory Play
Babies LOVE sensory play, and the playground is the perfect place to engage your child in this kind of play, especially if your baby seems a little young to fully play on the playground structure. Sand play is an important part of childhood. Babies love the feel of sand between their toes and fingers. Toddlers and preschoolers love sand for the building properties.
But, a lot of times, many parents don’t bring the sand toys with them.
It doesn’t take much in the way of equipment to keep your child busy in the sand. Pack some shovels and buckets. Don’t have those? No problem. A simple kitchen raid can solve that for you. Plastic containers, spoons and measuring cups can be used just as easily in place of sand toys.
Bring some plastic figurines, twigs and grasses, cars or tractors for added fun. Sand play helps in the development of the sense of touch as your little one feels and moulds sand while moving toys through it.
So the next time you find yourself bringing your child to the park, make sure you also pack the sand toys.
9 Handling Playground Disputes
The playground is a great place for children to develop their social interactions. Babies and toddlers might play alongside other children, while preschool and school age children will play with their peers and, with luck, acquire the skills needed to strike up a conversation with others and make new friends.
At some point, there will be playground disputes over sand toys, or swing turns. When this happens, many parents might become involved in how their children interact with others and handle these disputes for their children. While sometimes it is necessary for parents to step in, many children have the capability to handle these disagreements on their own --without parental involvement.
Parents should become involved if the situation escalates and a child's emotions run high, or if things start getting physical.
Children should be encouraged to try and solve their disputes with peers on their own initially, and seek help from an adult when they are feeling overwhelmed. There are many ways to help your child manage their feelings and try to sort out their differences with other children in a diplomatic and empathetic way.
So next time a playground dispute emerges, let your child try to handle the situation and see if they can resolve it, before becoming involved yourself.
8 Handling the Call of Nature
Potty Training is such a huge milestone and no one is disputing this. Once your child is out of diapers, they will no doubt find the most inopportune times to declare that they need to go.
And sure, we’ve all been there. You just get to the park with your child in tow. You’ve been there for literally 10 minutes when you hear that tiny voice whisper “Mommy! I need to go to the bafwoom!” Your eyes grow wide in horror. Panic sets in! You look around and notice another kid using the nearest wall or tree and possibly think to yourself “Hmm… Maybe?”
The answer is No. An emphatic No!
Always - Just No.
When your little one is at the park, always look for the nearest toilet. Barring that, you can hurriedly pack up and RUN home, or find the nearest full coverage bushes. For the latter option, if you’re really prepared, you may have even remembered to pack wipes and hand sanitizer! Kudos! That’s a win in itself!
7 Supervised Play
At the playground, supervision is always recommended. Even required for little guys and girls. It’s important to make sure your children are playing safe and within their boundaries. The temptation is always there to protect them and make sure they don’t get hurt.
By hovering around your child while they are exploring, could you actually be hindering their growing independence and setting their limitations for them? Some experts believe so, and some studies show this to be true.
If your child is on age appropriate equipment, and the ground is sand, rubber, or another soft material, it’s sometimes wise to take a step back. Let your child lead. Let them explore their surroundings and learn their own capabilities and set their own limitations.
Falls, scraped knees and elbows are a part of childhood. They’re bound to happen and usually are forgotten within minutes. So instead of hovering over your child, step back, maintain a safe distance, and let them learn and explore for themselves.
6 Bring Water
Picture this. The day starts off beautifully. Not a cloud in the blue sky. The sun is shining and it’s a nice warm day. The PERFECT day to spend at the park!
So you pack up your child and make plans to meet friends in 20 minutes. In your haste, you forget to pack a water bottle.
Once you’re at the park and your little one is engrossed in play, running around the equipment and playing in the sand, it won’t take long for the thirst to kick in. Once this happens, usually within 20 minutes, you’ll hear the accompanying whine of “Mommy, I’m THIIIIIRRRRRSTY!”
Unless you’ve got a convenience store across the street and have packed your wallet, you can basically start packing your things. The unquenchable thirst won’t go away and will need to be dealt with really quickly – you definitely don’t want to be dealing with dehydration later!
So next time you imagine a fun-filled morning spent at your local playground, make sure a water bottle is packed too, otherwise it could be a visit cut way too short!
5 Being Sun Smart
This might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how little we might do to protect ourselves and our children from the sun. Being sun smart isn’t just slapping on the SPF 30 and calling it a day. It involves a whole regime when you go outside.
Applying sunscreen is just the beginning, but it’s an important first step. Being sun smart also consists of wearing clothing that minimizes sun exposure (t-shirt and shorts), wearing a minimum of SPF 30 on exposed skin (and preferably SPF 60 on a young child's sensitive skin), wearing a sun hat, seeking a shady spot out of the sun and wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes.
In Australia, they call it “Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek & Slide” as a way to remember to be diligent about sun safety and with all the sun there, children are taught early to remember these simple steps.
Don’t make the mistake of letting your sun smarts slide and let your child get a nasty sunburn while playing at the park. This could turn a nice day out into a nightmare of angry, red skin and a lot of tears later on.
4 Packing Snacks
No matter how close to your playground visit your children ate, you can bet that they will be hungry when they are at the playground. You might have JUST had lunch – 3 courses even – but beyond a shadow of doubt, they will want a snack.
Children work up quite the appetite while playing. When they hit the hunger wall, you can hear it across the playground. That hungry child will soon turn into a “hangry” (see hungry and angry combined) child.
If you have no snacks – no fruits or goldfish crackers, no rice cakes or applesauce pouches – your child will eventually morph into a seagull. Foraging around the playground, looking for kids with food. A hungry child is not a picky child. They will not think twice about eating the sandy cookie on the ground.
Maybe you’ve even seen this child at the playground. They will go from adult to adult, looking at what you’ve brought to the park for your children. They might even announce to you, “Mmm….Grapes! Grapes are my favourite,” compelling you to hand over some of your precious snacks so that no child goes hungry.
Let's just all do our part for these lovely, little scavengers, and not leave home without the snacks!
3 Focusing on Physical Play
Playing at the playground often evokes images of children running, swinging, sliding – basically burning off so much of their energy in hopes of wearing them out for a good night’s sleep. For the most part, this is what the playground is for, but don’t overlook the other, equally important kinds of play you can foster at the park.
A lot of playgrounds have a storefront booth to engage children in pretend or imaginative play. Some also have trees and bushes around that can double as forts for groups of children.
Encourage your children to use their natural surroundings to play knights and dragons, or build a house. Have your child use the store set up in the playground to bake grass, sand, or mud pies and make sure you are an ardent customer. Go ahead and order an “ice cream cone” from the little child offering to make you one.
As parents, we owe it to our kids to let them play like kids – and not just the physical play, but the imaginative play as well.
2 Not Correcting Bullying or Aggressive Behaviors
Teaching empathy to child isn’t easy, but nothing about parenting is easy, really.
From an early age, your child could show aggression to other children who are maybe around the same size or age as them. It’s important, as a parent, to not turn a blind eye if your child is behaving in an aggressive way, and this holds true in the playground.
Parents need to get a handle on aggressive behavior, at playgrounds, and manage it head on. If you don’t, another child may get hurt.
Alternately, if your child is the recipient of aggressive behavior, it’s OK to let the other child (or their parent) know, in a diplomatic way, that the offending behavior is not acceptable and could result in a playground injury.
If you see your child (or any child for that matter) throwing sand, you can correct the behavior by telling them to “Stop” and explaining to them that they may hurt another child if the sand gets into their eyes. If you notice another child hitting your child or pushing them on the playground equipment, it’s OK to tell that child to stop pushing the other child because they might fall and get hurt.
If you see bullying behavior in your child, put the consequences of their actions to them and explain why they shouldn't do what they are doing. When safety is involved, it’s our responsibility as parents to ensure all children are playing in a safe way that doesn’t threaten other children.
1 Judging Other Parents or Parenting Styles
So often, when we’re out and about with our kids, the compulsion to judge other parenting styles wants to be set free! This happens all too often and the playground is not sacred. Judgements can come fast and harsh there, as well, sometimes.
We might judge another's choice to let their child have some freedom at the park, or alternately, we might judge another parent who just can’t seem to let their child more than 3 feet from them. Maybe a parent has their cell phone in hand, or maybe someone decided to bring a book and get a little “me time” in, while their children play.
As parents, the job is usually a thankless one – a 24/7 one, where we can’t call in sick because our little ones depend on us for the basic necessities. Sometimes that playground time is the only down time that parent has. Maybe they are waiting for an important call or email from their family. At the end of the day, should that parent be judged by us?
We should, instead, focus on parenting our own children as we see fit, and leave the judgements for other parents behind. It's important to remember that not every parent has the same ideals and techniques, and the world is a better place for all these differences. There’s enough mom shaming in the news. Let’s band together and keep it out of the happy place that is our children's playgrounds.