I love the playground. Because first of all, it is 'free fun' and I am all about that. If it is free, fun and near my house, you'd best believe we are going. And that includes every playground within a five-minute drive. But unlike say, the library, at the playground there's also fresh air and exercise but so is the panacea for bad behaviour.
When Awesome was a newborn, I had a serious case of playground envy. I would walk by the park, Awesome snug in his Snugli, and watch as kids play and their moms chatted with one another. Maybe it was because my baby's idea of fun was batting at the stuffed elephant that we affectionately called "Klappar from Finland" on his activity mat. I do what any good mother would do. I take them to the playground. Don't blame me; Genius was 13 when I had Awesome, so yeah.
Fast-forward two and a half years: Now that Awesome is old enough to join in the fun, I discovered that the playground isn't quite the toddler utopia I had imagined. Kids steal toys, hog the swings, and think nothing of pushing each other aside on their way through the crawl tunnels. To get a handle on how to deal with these sticky situations and more, I talked to several been-there-done-that moms. Here's their wise advice.
Unbelievably, playground etiquette is not just for your kids, but parents, too. There are parents who stare at their iPad and notice their kid is gone when the ambulance shows up. Then there are other parents who are right there on the playground equipment, two inches behind them the whole time.
I think there is a good middle ground, and of course, it depends on your kid's age, the other children there, and your child's ability, along with the equipment itself.
Playgrounds aren't just a place to let your kids run free - they are also a place for your kids to learn. They are exploring their physical capabilities and burning off energy so hopefully they sleep well at night, but it's also a social lesson in sharing, taking turns, and basic safety. And this goes for the parents, too.
It is also fine if you are the mom climbing around with your little one who is a tad small for the equipment. We know not all parks cater perfectly to all ages. But be aware of the other children, and if you and your tiny ones are interfering too much with the play of kids the appropriate age, it's probably wise to take them to explore the grass and trees instead, and save the equipment for a less busy time.
If you've got bigger kids, make sure they are careful and respectful of the smaller kids too. Like it or not, the park is really not a time for you to check out. You still need to monitor your kids, not only for their own safety but the safety of others as well.
Of course, take this time to teach manners. You don't need to be up in their faces, telling them everything to do, say, and how to play "right" with each toy, but if your little one is climbing up the slide while others are waiting to come down, move them and let them know slides aren't for going up, but ladders are. Keep an eye on your kid, even if it would be nice to take the time to relax, for everyone's comfort and safety.
For people, there are golden rules. You are the adult who is supposed to be watching them. So just in case you didn't realise that we live in a society where there are rules that govern our behaviour, I will share some of them with you.
A couple of minutes after you start pushing your five-year-old daughter on the swings, a line forms. Should you immediately give up your spot?
I would say there is no need to instantly put an end to the fun, but you shouldn't let her continue to swing for more than a few minutes. "Whenever this happened to Awesome, I would say something like, 'Okay, you get five more minutes or 20 more pumps'."
Unfortunately, not every parent is going to be this considerate. When the line isn't moving, I would simply explain what should happen in a very audible voice. I'll say - loud enough for other mothers to hear - 'Awesome, you have to wait a couple of minutes. I'm sure the other kids will finish up soon so that you can have your turn. If 10 minutes have passed and let's say Awesome is still waiting, there's nothing wrong with approaching the other mom and saying nicely that Awesome has been waiting for quite a while. Is your child almost done?
When a hungry toddler hovers nearby Awesome as he munches on crackers, I would contemplate if I should offer her some?
Noting that it is not wise to give a child something to eat until you've asked her parent's permission, there is always a question of dietary requirement not to mention other parents who may take advantage of your packed snacks too. Another option is to joke around with the other parents that your rations are running low; more than likely someone will immediately offer up a few snacks for sharing.
Last week, a parent annoyed me when her kid bolted behind Awesome, who I was pushing on the swings, as if it were our fault that her son ran in front of mine. We didn't see him coming and Awesome was already in mid-swing, away from me. Still the parent thought I should have defied all laws of physics and used my super powers to stop my daughter from swinging. The child - or as we deemed him -'The Bolter' was not hurt, just a little scared ... of his mother.
So yes, it is vital to keep an eye on your child/children at all time. I am referring to the nastiest habit of all - parents not watching their children. I am not talking about being overbearing and not allowing your children to play free and have fun.
The issue here is when parents just drop their kids off and head for the nearest bench to socialise or use their iPhones, iPads and etc. As a parent I can tell you it's great to find parents at the playground who I can talk to while our kids play, but that doesn't mean we sit and talk and forget about our kids. It doesn't take being a professional multi-tasker to be able to watch your child and talk to someone at the same time. When parents socialise and don't watch their children, the child often ends up getting hurt--or ends up hurting your child.
If you ever witness a rude parent not watching their child, unfortunately there is only so much you can do. You should never, ever touch or reprimand another child. However, when you do see another child behaving badly, you should alert the parents. And if you see another person's child doing something dangerous, kindly and gently tell the parents you think their child might need a hand on the playground. Tell them you wish you could (even though you don't) help their kid, but you have to watch your own kid. Gasp, the thought!
And lastly, I reiterate playground is supposed to be a fun place for everyone. So let's make the effort to keep it that way. After all, Awesome now wakes up every morning asking to go to the park and play swings. So yes, I vow to shoot any kill-joy for that matter.
About the author: Zora is a mother of two. Her eldest son, Genius, is 15 years old and her other child, Awesome, is two-and-a-half years old. She has been married for over a decade now, and athough she secretly wishes she was an heiress, Zora enjoys her day job as a civil servant. She is also one of the invited panellists of a Woman's Talk Show @ RTB's 95.9 Pilihan FM. She is joined by the graceful Salwa and bubbly Ivanka on the insightful and highly recommended programme at 2.15pm on every third Friday of the month produced by DJ Enny.--Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin