Thursday, May 15, 2014

Playground Rules for Moms

I mentioned the hour Reid spent playing at the park during yesterday's touch a truck event. Tonight I've been pondering some of the moments we had there. My thoughts are a compilation of various overprotected kid articles I've been reading via friend's facebook posts and pinterest boards.

Thankfully, the pendulum seems to be swinging back, and at least some parents seem to be recognizing the danger of hovering over our children while they play. That said, I'd like to share some of the things I observed yesterday.

1. More than one parent followed their child around on the actual playground equipment. There are times where this is necessary. But yesterday's playground was not one that seemed to ever warrant this. It was one straight line (making children easily accessible from either side) and no given point was higher than 6 feet off the ground. Most the parents I saw were following their toddlers around at the 4 foot high range.

2.  Many parents stood right by their child as they dug in the dirt.

3. One parent repeatedly told her child how to dig. "Don't dig in the same hole as that boy, you might hurt each other." That boy was my son, and I was heartbroken when she made her child leave him. Reid was clearly having much more fun digging with this boy than when he was previously digging all by himself. He was originally digging with two brother's whose grandparents stood right by. Just moments after Reid joined them the grandparents made the younger brother come with them to follow the older brother -- who had stopped digging. It seemed like Reid was never going to keep a digging buddy.

4. Reid's fourth digging buddy brought a pile of sticks to the hole that had already been dug. His mom followed him up the hill (I was at the bottom this whole time -- all other parents and grandparents mentioned were at the top). "Use the sticks to dig," I heard the mom say. Her son's responses were too quite for me to hear, but I can re-share her side of the conversation. "Oh, they're dinosaur eggs."  "Well, here," as she removed the sticks from the hole "use rocks instead, they're more like dinosaur eggs." She showed Reid and her son how to polish off rocks to use as dinosaur eggs and the two got to work. They were having a blast. Two minutes into their fun she started asking questions. "What kind of dinosaur are you?" "Are you a T-rex?" "Or you could be an apotosaurus? Which dinosaur do you want to be?" As all this questioning continued her little boy climbed down the hill and began looking for a new adventure.

5. Nearly 30 minutes after the above interactions three new boys appeared on top of the hill. I was relieved to find their moms stayed below, chatting. Each boy picked up a stick, but instead of joining Reid in his digging, the oldest boy started challenging them all to a sword fight. I was a little nervous, I'm not going to lie. But I just reminded myself that this would help Reid with his eye hand coordination, and I reminded myself of all those articles about overprotected kids and their hovering parents, and I reminded myself of my own childhood -- and I found myself totally okay with the four boys sword fighting on top of a giant dirt hill. I wasn't even bothered when I heard the leader tell Reid "We don't know you, so you can't play with us," as he and his two friends climbed down the hill and ran across the playground. Reid, not understanding his gesture, followed them and their sword fight continued on a smaller hill 30 feet away. Soon the boys ran back to the big hill and while I wasn't looking I heard a cry. I turned to find one boy running straight for his mom. I didn't see it, but I knew what happened, he got hit with a stick. Did Reid hit him, I sure hoped not. Soon one of the mother's came over to tell all four boys they weren't to play with sticks. I quickly shouted "Reid, just dig with your stick. Don't point it at anyone." The rule seemed sensible enough that the other mom repeated it to the three boys she had charge over. The biggest boy, who had been the most aggressive (who I believe was her son) made a couple attempts to keep sword fighting Reid, and I reminded the boys of our "digging only" rule and they soon complied.

Now, these observations may make me sound like I'm judging the other caretakers. That is not my purpose. I guarantee I've done each of these things. I have climbed up a play structure to take Nell down the slide. I have asked so many questions Reid's poor imagination was killed. I have worried that Reid's actions would hurt another child. And I fully admit that the refereeing in situation 5 was merited. When a kid cries because he was hit with a stick it is totally acceptable to end sword fighting (which wasn't a great idea to begin with). But each of these situations stood out to me because of all the articles I've recently read. They stood out in my mind because of the great effort I've made to not be the parent who stands on top of the hill, telling my child how to dig holes.

Thankfully, at one open gym session Reid did get into a little scuffle with two other boys. I was horrified, but (the thankful part) the two boys' caregivers (who I assumed were early grandma's) were overwhelmingly forgiving. "Your son doesn't need to apologize. All of them got out of hand. That's how they learn the boundaries of play. Next time they'll handle it better," one said as I made Reid apologize. Another, rather than forcing her child to apologize, forced him to find Reid at closing time and tell Reid he looked forward to seeing him at the next open gym. This was of particular comfort to me because I know she heard me threaten Reid to "never come back here again if you don't apologize." Those two grandma's understood something I'd read in an article (which I can't find right now) just days before that gym session. Boy's need to play fight. Play fighting has rules and boundaries, and it is a healthy part of male childhood. Often one boy will break one of those unspoken rules, but even then there is a lot of important learning to be done. As I read this particular article I thought of all the wrestling my brothers did as children. I thought of all the wrestling Reid loves to do at home. And that day at the gym I forced myself not to intervene when the play tug of wars began. I forced myself to be okay with the happy faces and joyful giggles of little boys who were being a little rougher than 2014 boundaries let them. And it was such a relief, that even when things got out of hand (shirts were pulled and that was against the unspoken rules), nothing horrible happened. No one threatened to sue me. No one told me my child was out of hand. None of the caretakers involved judged the other, and you know what ... the next time those three boys saw each other at open gym they ran around together as happy as could be.

I titled this post, playground rules for moms, not knowing exactly where it would go (I know, I shouldn't make titles before the bulk of my post is drafted -- rookie writer's mistake). So here are my rules. The rules I have been trying to live by myself. The rules I wish all parents at the playground (or open gym -- winter's version of the playground) would live by.

1. Let kids take risks. Let them test their limits. Without testing their limits they can develop fear and risk issues that are just as serious as broken bones.

2. Let kids play without you. They need peers. They crave interaction with people their size.

3. Give them space. Watch from a distance. The chances of your child being abducted are so ridiculously low it shouldn't even cross your mind. They are more likely to get hurt on the car ride to the playground than they are to get abducted at the playground.

4. Stop worrying about how they will behave. There will be times, even full days, where they behave poorly. Let natural consequences flow, don't cushion those consequences. Let them be learning opportunities. Your child's behavior is not a reflection of your parenting.

5. When, and only when, they can't make sensible rules/boundaries for themselves, make sensible (not limiting or unrealistic) ones for them. "Only throw rocks at the ground." Because expecting a child not to pick up rocks is absurd. Expecting them not to throw them at other kids is realistic.

6. Give other mom's the benefit of the doubt. If their kids act wild, it could be because their father just died. If a toddler is braver than you are comfortable with, don't harass their mom about it. And because all these rules apply to me -- if you find a mom hovering, cut her some slack. Pray the pendulum swing will hit her, and she'll soon find herself loosening up a little bit after reading some fabulous article about the risks of raising overprotected children.

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