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Park Survival

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One mom's advice: step back and let your child have their own experience.

Jennifer Ginsberg: After my son Shane was born, I spent the first three years of his life at the park, so I consider myself to be an expert on this subject. Over the years, I have observed a variety of parenting practices at the park, many strange and confusing. It seems as if there are some basic misconceptions about what it means to take your child to the park. The following guide is meant to help make the park experience more enjoyable for both you and your child.

mom disciplining kids at a playground

1) Take the words "Share" and "Not nice" out of your lexicon. A baby does not understand the concept of sharing, nor is this a logical life lesson. Do you share your beloved possessions with complete strangers? If so, I would kindly like to borrow your "white on white" Range Rover for a few days. Save your moralizing and philosophizing on the virtues of "being nice" and "sharing" for the pulpit. Try to not say anything unless it is absolutely necessary. Ask yourself, "Does this need to be said at all? Does this need to be said right now?" Probably not.

2) Teach your child to take turns. Say, "I see you really want to use Aiden's Tonka truck. He is using it now, but when he is done, you can have a turn." This is much more effective.

3) With the exception of a few sand toys, please leave your crap at home. Isn't the whole point of going to the park to play at the park? The play structure and sand are neutral. The motorized mini Hummer that Papa Dodo bought him for Hanukkah is not. Don't take it to the park.

4) Dress your child for the park. Children need to run and splash, get dirty, sandy, and sweaty. Please honor this impulse in your child. Tights, uncomfortable shoes, and Disney Princess Dresses are not park attire. If you cannot tolerate watching your child running around and getting dirty, then do what I do and pay someone else to take them to the park. Then pay a therapist $200 an hour to help you with your OCD.

5) Let your child have their own experience at the park. Stop micromanaging your child. I have heard the most judgmental, critical, and pointless comments uttered from the lips of otherwise good parents, including "Don't run" (where the hell can your child run if they can't run at the park?), and "No, that is not the way you use the slide!" I have confidence that your child knows how to utilize the playground in a way that is enjoyable and developmentally appropriate for her, even if that means trying to walk up the slide or swinging on their tummies.

6) Allow your child to interact with other children without sportscasting the event. Often times, if two children at the park dare to make contact, their mothers rapidly descend on them like Israeli soldiers thwarting an attack. Here is my advice: step back and let your child have their own experience. Children learn a lot from these interactions, and even young children can work out conflicts between themselves.

7) Only intervene if it is a true safety issue. If your child is about to get hurt or hurt another child, it is time to calmly step in. Remember, your anxiety about this situation only fuels the situation, so be as zen as possible in your intervention. A safety issue is not when two children are holding onto the same toy at once, or your daughter is pouring sand on her feet.

8) Be positive in your language with your child. The constant chorus of "No, Don't, and Stop" at the park is one of the more unsavory aspects of the experience for me (worse than dirty sand on my feet). How about saying "Yes!" to your child when you want to say "No!" Example, "Yes, you can try to climb up the slide!" and "Yes, you can splash in that puddle!"

9) Have faith in your child. It is not your job to teach them how to use the park. It is your job to keep them safe. I understand how much you want to push them on the swing or watch them go down the slide, but if they choose to lay on their backs making sand angels all afternoon, let them. This is about their development, not your need for pride or validation.

10) The play structure is meant for kids, not for moms! The other day I took Shane to the park and he came running over to me, upset. "Mommy, why is that mom standing on the bridge talking on her cell phone? I can't get by her to go on the monkey bars." Lo and behold, there was a mother hogging up the play structure, hovering over her toddler, yapping away on her cell phone. How about giving your kid some space to play and move without you on top of him?

And get off your cell phone while you are at it!

next: Guilty Fridays: Moms Confess
5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Michelle May 1, 2009, 2:22 PM

This is a great article. This should be a manifesto that is required reading for anyone who takes their kids to the park.

Great stuff - anyone that has ever been to the park with their little one(s) has had an experience like this.

I’d summarize, but there’s no reason - loved the writing…

Mary M May 1, 2009, 3:46 PM

I do believe the slide is for going down, not up, especially at a crowded playground. If your kid is the only one at the park, go for it. In general some basic rules with regard to equipment usage are good to have, they can help reduce injuries as well as the need some parents feel to constantly intervene. Taking your kid to the park/playground for 3 years does not make you an expert, it just gives you a basis for an opinion.

Anonymous May 1, 2009, 9:20 PM

Mary M needs a life.

K&C's mom May 1, 2009, 11:11 PM

The only other one I would add would be to pick up after yourselves and you childern!!!! I am sick of taking my kids to the park and picking up other people’s trash, to make it safe for my kids to play!!!

Lora May 3, 2009, 11:45 AM

This is sad that moms need a guide for how to play at a park!

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