5 Playground Lessons I Never Knew I was Teaching

February 6, 2011 · 41 comments

Boy jumping off swing

Learning to fly

I never wanted to be THAT mom on the playground.

You know, the one who’s child hit the other one, took toys that weren’t his, or fell off something too high for them.

So I hovered — barking instructions — making sure my boys were polite and safe.

I thought it showed them how to make it in the world. I want them to get along with others. They need to learn how to be nice. I don’t want them to get hurt. They need to learn what can be dangerous.

Unfortunately, my good intentions had inadvertant lessons:

1. If you get bored, I’ll entertain you. I’d get to the playground with my boys, and plop them in the swings, where I’d push them for as long as they wanted.

My son will let me do this for hours. It’s addictive for both of us — he’s happy and laughing, and I get to watch him fly and soar. I used to think it was bonding time, where I showed him how much I loved him and spent quality time with him.

Then I realized he never wanted to get out and play without me. So I stopped pushing him. My husband thinks this is wacky and extreme, but my son will now play for hours . . . including imitating the older kids by climbing on the swings and pumping his legs . . . on his own.

2. You aren’t able to figure out problems without me. This was a really hard one for me to stop doing. I hate seeing my boys frustrated.

My older one, being younger and smaller than most of his playdate buddies, often ran into situations where he was scared, or not tall enough, or not coordinated enough to do what he wanted to do. I didn’t want him to be left out, so I’d lift him up, show him how, or carry him to catch up. I just wanted him to have fun . . . and started making him completely dependent on me.

So I stopped. And he began to make solutions that I never would have dreamed of.

3. Don’t take risks because you’ll get hurt. I’ve always been pretty good about this, because my boys have been blessed with pretty incredible balance. But if my oldest got higher than I was comfortable with, off I’d go, running across the playground, nervously standing beneath him, and pulling him off if he showed a hint of wobbling.

This has been a really tough one to stop, because I really don’t want to be the mother who brings my child to the emergency room with a broken arm. So I’m still careful, and I spot my boys if they find themselves in a precarious spot. But now I casually stroll over, and only watch them out of the corner of my eye. I want them to know that risks are good.

They might fall sometimes, and they’ll get banged up. But a few scratches and scrapes are worth them knowing it’s ok to keep pushing their limits.

4. What you’re interested in isn’t important. I often followed the lead of other parents I saw (because this is how we learn to be parents, obviously), and wouldn’t let my son throw toys off the play structures, or let him climb up the slide the wrong way. I didn’t want him to inconvenience others, or accidently hit someone. And then I realized how ridiculous this sounds.

It’s a playground, not a courtroom. They’re supposed to go crazy there, and be able to experiment and explore.

So off my son went to the big slide, four cars clutched in his little hands. He stood at the top to see what happened when his cars went down before him (they flew off the bend and crash-landed in a small pile off to the side).

It never would have crossed my mind to teach him the physics of Matchbox cars flying down a slide, but he that’s what he wants to learn, pushing them over and over to see where they launch and where they land. And those lessons are important as anything I could have come up with.

5. You can’t do it on your own. It was really, really painful to realize I was sending this message. Of all the things I want my son to have, confidence in his ability to do things is right up there.

There I was, at every conflict, every awkward moment, every time he stood at the bottom of the slide when someone else wanted to come down. I wanted to show him how to work things out, how to make friends, or how to get out of the way. And inadvertantly demonstrated how he needed me to get him out of every sticky situation he found himself in.

Learning new playground behaviors with my kids is really, really difficult. The peer pressure of the playground is sometimes overwhelming, especially when my boys are the ones acting agressive or demanding. Or they’ve just fallen off something and landed on their face, and they’re walking towards me screaming. It’s hard not to be self-conscious and feel like I’m the worst mom in the world.

But I keep reminding myself that I don’t want them to learn to do things differently just because people are watching, so I play nervously with my hair and sit on the sidelines. I intervene if they look like they’re going to be physically agressive, or if they’re really high, but otherwise I keep my butt glued to the bench.

It’s painful sometimes too see them get hurt, and embarassing when they take someone else’s toys, but I also get to see them do things that I never dreamed they could do — like sit on top of the monkey bars, legs swinging . . . or reaching out to slide down the fireman’s pole. Sometimes the best view really is from far away.

Photo Credit: wsilver, on Flickr

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rebekah February 8, 2011

Thank you! I have one friend who I trust to let my son be a boy with. Our boys play a little harder together. And our playdates can be wild and loud… but the kids learn and have fun and get to be boys! We both talk about the guilt we’ve had because we don’t want to stand over and stop our kids from throwing things (I’ve taught my son that he can’t throw in the direction of someone) we want them to have someone that they can learn to work it out with. thankfully our boys are very well matched temperment wise and physical so it’s ‘safe’ place to learn how to behave. With out a percieved judgement of other parents.

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2 Natalia February 8, 2011

Just yesterday my daughter wanted me to help her and lift her onto a climbing structure that was too high for her to get up on herself. My response was “if you can’t get up yourself then you won’t be able to get down by yourself so lets find something that you can do on without my help”. So we did and I back to the bench to watch from a distance.

Its taken me a little while to have the confidence to do this but seeing her smiles from conquering things on her own is worth every moment.

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3 janetlansbury February 8, 2011

Oh my gosh, this is brilliant! Such wisdom you are sharing! You will continue to be amazed when your boys complete homework and school projects joyfully and independently; show talent in areas you never imagined; respect their teachers and peers because of the way their own development has been respected.

Trusted children (with appropriate behavioral limits and boundaries) become confident children. Thank you for this post. It made my week!

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4 Alexandra February 8, 2011

Love this great article – “It’s a playground, not a courtroom. They’re supposed to go crazy there, and be able to experiment and explore.”
Thanks for a terific reminder to TRUST our children.

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5 Jespren February 8, 2011

I’m a firm believer (learned during my babysitting days when I frequently had 5+ kids I was watching) that you should (almost never) do for a child what they can do for themselves and, when if comes to play, if they can’t do it they probably shouldn’t. I refused to help one of babysitter kids up a tree/ladder/structure, because if they can’t get up by themselves they sure as heck can’t get back down by themselves. I couldn’t stand there spotting them, I had other kids that needed my attention as well! My little boy is a climber, and was a somewhat early walker. He had no trouble toddling around the 2-5 year play structure at 12 months, and he went on the big slide (standard playground equipment as opposed to the little kids) all by himself at 14 months. He climbed up a ladder that had to be 10ft high to the top of the play structure at 19 months. And by 2 yrs he happily plays independantly at the playground while I stay on the ground with the baby (who is now walking so time to let her explore!). I will admit the fact that he’s a big boy and looks like a 3 yr old helps keep the glares down from the other parents, but I know he’s safe so I don’t really care what they think.
I will admit I hover/intervene more than I want to with the toys/fighting area. As far as I’m concerned that kind of stuff should be dealt with between the kids, with the parents making sure any snagged toy gets with it’s owner before you leave the playground, and who cares if they throw a punch or two? They’re toddlers, not Tyson. But other parents are so worried that little Jonny might get his feelings hurt, or, heaven forbid, learn to defend their territory with a well aimed smack, that I inevitably get in the middle of it. It’s obsurd, I guarentee you didn’t see 1800′s Homestead mom’s get up from making bread to give a toy back and chastise a couple of under 5s that hitting is wrong. Their kids, by any objectable measure, were far better behaved than the average kid today. I ruetinely babysat groups of 5, 7, even 10+ kids (I tried to make sure there were 2 of us if I knew there were going to be more than 10, but it didn’t always happen) and you learn to be comfortable in the fact that, as long as you aren’t in an inclosed kid un-friendly zone or around water, there is actually very little the under 10 group can do that’s really going to produce injury. Besides, it’s almost always the things you don’t think about that causes injury or trouble. My brother broke his arm in a pillow fight, not in the hours of sword fighting with sticks or pvc or the hand to hand fighting. I broke my arm riding my bike, with my mom within arm’s reach, because I put my wrist back to break my fall, not in the hours spent ‘creek jumping’ or jumping from our 2nd story hayloft.
Perfect example, I look up because my 2 year old who is allowed to get in the fridge to get his milk, has opened the fridge door and then fallen silent. Turns out he has just determined that he can climb up the fridge shelf to get to the freezer. *sigh* quiet kids always mean trouble!

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6 kreeeestamama February 9, 2011

Love this post! Great ideas to think about…

It irritates me how easily we can get so worried about what other people think that we change the way we parent our children! Ugh!

Work in progress I guess. :)

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7 Melodie February 9, 2011

This is fantastic. I am trying to learn to be less of a hoverer myself. My daughters really love to play with me and it is hard not to help them when they ask, but I know I am doing them a dis-service when I do this and your post is a great reminder.

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8 Reena February 9, 2011

I agree with a lot of what you say, but I also think to some degree we do have a level of responsibility for ensuring they are safe. It’s hard when you see your kid stood at the bottom of the slide with a child waiting to come down because one day that child will come down and will likely really hurt the little one (I’ve witnessed it enough times when mums are chatting paying no attention) What’s so “limiting” about pointing out to the younger one that someone is waiting for a turn and so standing right in the way means they could get hit? Otherwise where do you draw the line? do you let them discover themselves that walking infront of a swinging swing is dangerous, despite the fact it could end in hospitalisation?!
I push my son in the swing, then I tell him I’ve had enough now (the truth) then he goes to play, why the need for black and white?
I agree about hovering and letting them find ther own limitations, but I also believe in teaching respect for shared ares and equipment, why should one child be ok to climb up the slide the wrong way in filthy shoes, if that then means all the rest have to slide down a slide that is no longer slippy and instead filthy…

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9 Emily February 10, 2011

I’ve struggled with the same dilemma of teaching my child respect for shared areas and equipment. I think the idea, though, is to let our children discover that if you “climb up the slide the wrong way in filthy shoes”, that means “all the rest have to slide down a slide that is no longer slippy instead of filthy”. That’s how we learned, right? I remember sliding down many a sandy (or wet!) slide, and I also had my turn piling sand at the top and watching it slide down, or another mound at the end of the slide that we plowed through. I learned it was much more fun to have a clean slide. If I encountered a dirty one, I either wiped it off or played on something else.

I’ve also let my little one walk in front of a swinging swing. Not one that he could have been seriously hurt by, but one that would bump him just enough to impress upon him the reason I kept yelling at him to stay away from people on swings. Since then, he stays away, and I don’t need to yell. Lesson learned. I let my 2-year-old climb up a steep rock wall a couple of days ago at the park, after I had told him “No, you’re too little” several times. I stood a couple of feet away, silently watching him carefully place his hands and feet. When he got to the vertical part right before the top, I inched forward to be ready to catch. I didn’t need to. He did it. He was so excited. I was crushed. I realized how much I had been holding him back from exploring his abilities and feeling accomplished. He ran to another part of the structure that lets you climb up a steep (and tall!) incline with a chain to hold. I had been telling him “No” to this one too, so I let him try. The first time he went up fine. The second time he got up more than halfway, got careless, lost his grip, and started to fall. Instead of grabbing him off, I gave him a gentle push, and let him “fall” sliding down the incline. It was bumpy. He was scared. But started again, a little more carefully – and made it. I don’t want to see him hurt. But I know he will get hurt. I just want to let him learn how to be careful by getting a little hurt, instead of by me barking, “Be careful!” incessantly.

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10 Jespren February 10, 2011

@ Emily: Amen! The old adage: one thorn of experience is worth a forest of knoweldge.

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11 AJ February 10, 2011

Overall I really like your points! My little guy has been sliding without me catching him since 10 months after I figured out he didn’t need me. At about 13 months, before he could walk, he managed to climb the stairs, seat himself, slide down, and climb back up again! Almost every day I see disapproving looks and pursed lips on other parents when my little guy climbs high, uses the big slide, or goes down face first. They shudder when he slips on the gravel on the pavement and my response is, “Oops! You tumbled!”

The one area I feel it is still important for me to intervene at this point though is the sharing/hitting/throwing/making-things-not-fun-for others area. I think navigating relationships takes more hands-on-training than discovering his physical limits. Thus, when he decides that hurling a scoop of sand at the crowd of kids is funny, I sit with him and demonstrate scooping and dumping into the bucket. If he snatches a toy from another kid, I say, “John is playing with that now, you can play with something else,” and have him return the toy. When he is taking too long at the top of the slide, I encourage him to give someone else a turn.

I don’t think this is hovering–I think this is parenting. Sure, he might learn not to do these things if the kids cried, hit him, or shoved him, and I wouldn’t feel bad if he did experience these natural consequences. But see, I don’t step in to shield him consequences. I step in because the problem I see with this method is that if I ignore these behaviors and let him “work it out” with the other kids, when does it cross the line into bullying? What if it becomes such an ingrained behavior that the other kids learn to steer clear of him instead of dishing it back? What if he’s insensitive to the cries of the other kids or unfazed by a punch or shove? What if the other kid DOESN’T cry, hit, or push him and gives up or cowers instead? All that teaches him is, “I got what I wanted, Mommy saw it and didn’t stop me, so I’ll do it again.”

I don’t think he’s going to learn the right lessons on the playground without some adult help, so I’m going to intervene now when he’s young. I want to give him the moral framework and guidance now so that when he’s older he’ll be able to work it with the other kids. Hopefully he’ll be the kid suggesting equitable solutions to the kids’ problems rather than the one causing the problems.

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12 Suchada @ Mama Eve February 20, 2011

AJ –

I really enjoyed reading your thoughtful response. One of the things I’ve found difficult about being “hands-off” is how to be respectful of other people and their values while also staying true to my own. It’s really important for me to teach my children not to be “people-pleasers” (as in changing simply to make other people happy), but at the same time, negotiating different viewpoints is important. I’m still working it out, and Janet (below) has given me some great tips.

I’m learning to be up-front with other parents and tell them I’m watching my son carefully to make sure he doesn’t hit/hurt anyone, but I’d like him to negotiate sharing on his own. I’m also asking if they’d mind giving him time to return toys on his own before re-directing their own children. And then if he begins to make a game of taking toys (especially from one person), then I ask him to stop. This has worked out really well, and I’ve found most parents are happy to oblige when they understand that I’m watching closely.

Thanks for bringing up such good points!

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13 janetlansbury February 12, 2011

I totally agree with @AJ about intervening to insure safety and respect for others. (But I didn’t get the impression Suchada was allowing her boys to run rampant!)

GREAT to give our child the freedom to play and explore as they wish, i.e., climb up the slide or sit at the top for eons if there’s no one else around. But when there’s a line of children waiting, I think we should step in.

I believe in being calm, kind, really direct rather than re-directing, and trying to keep it as confidential as possible so that it isn’t shaming. I’d come close and say, “I don’t want you to throw sand. If you throw sand again we will have to leave.” (And follow through.) Or, “Can you slide down now, or do you need me to take you off of the slide? There are children waiting.” “It isn’t safe to climb up the slide now. A little girl is at the top. You’ll have to try that another time.”

Then we can respect our child’s unique learning process while also teaching respect for others.

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14 Kristin @ Intrepid Murmurings February 12, 2011

Great post! I agree with everything (and also with AJ above), and mostly follow it as well, though your points are really good reminders for me!

I will admit my oldest is really cautious about physical stuff, so I don’t have to worry about her safety all that often, which makes it easier. I do think its really important for me to let her figure things out and try them on her own, though, and standing back really helps with that. Having twins also has helped — it’s impossible to hover/follow two or three kids so I have had to give them this kind of space from the get go, and it has served us all well!

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15 Suchada @ Mama Eve February 20, 2011

Kristin — I totally agree that having more children makes it a lot more difficult to hover. I found that with only two!

I originally felt guilty that I couldn’t spend as much time with either of them, but I’ve noticed how they’ve become much more independent and confident, and that makes me feel good. It really is amazing how things manage to work themselves out.

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16 MrsH February 18, 2011

What a great post, it’s helpful to think about and name those lessons we inadvertently can teach. I get the evil eye all the time at the playground and I hate it, but really it’s from parents who I think secretly wish they’d chosen to do less hovering. My kids are generally cautious. The relational piece does get harder though. We worked a lot when my eldest was 6 on helping her to understand when “just playing” got out of hand, when the smiles of a kid turned into anger, when play fighting became real, etc. She now steps back as soon as that change happens, respecting that child’s feelings.

Our middle one (just turned 5) struggles on the playground. He doesn’t “get” play fighting, nor does he notice when the other kids have moved onto another game. So he’ll run up and give someone a shove that was meant as a tag, only to get shoved back because they weren’t playing tag anymore! I don’t know how to help him with that besides lots of empathy and verbalizing what I saw was happening. Sometimes I pull him aside before that type of situation happens and say “oh hey, I think they’re just climbing now, tag is all done.”

Our littlest is 21 months and has been very independent on the playground. I’m amazed by her. When something looks hard she’ll even ask me if it’s ok! I say yes, but do often help her by showing her where to put her hands, or spotting her. When she does fall I do similar to another poster: catch her enough so she’s not hurt, but also let her fall enough so she’s a little concerned. She always tries again and usually manages. Socially, I do still work with her on how to interact with others, such as respecting others’ property (though we regularly ask other kids/mommies if we can use their shovel!) and taking turns. I really want her to be aware of others’ needs, without forgoing her own if that makes sense.

Thanks for such a thought-provoking post!

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17 Suchada @ Mama Eve February 20, 2011

MrsH, thanks so much for your comment! It sounds like many of us get the evil eye on the playground, when we’re all trying to do our best for our children.

I’m turning your thoughts over and over in my mind. I’m not a child development expert, and what I write about is only my experience trying out things I’ve read about, but that I’ve been fortunate to have success with (I try to write about things I haven’t had success with too).

I’ve actually stopped showing my children how to do things on the playground in order to let them figure things out on their own. It’s very tempting to “teach” them how to climb, slide, reach, etc, because it’s fun for all of us to see them accomplish something new. However, I’ve found that my son is much more confident when he does it all on his own, and it usually doesn’t take much longer than if I’ve helped him (sometimes less time, and then he moves on to bigger and better challenges). I watch him to make sure he’s safe, but other than that he’s on his own.

I also would be cautious about having my children ask for permission on certain structures. One of the markers of confidence and independence is knowing what they’re capable of without needing permission. While it gives us security, it could show that she’s not sure about what she’s able to do. You might want to give her rules when you arrive about where she play (and enforce them), but then give her leeway on the equipment and let her decide what she’s able to do or can’t do.

I hope you’ll let me know how they’re working things out!

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18 anna April 3, 2011

Thank you for this. Somehow I never read this before, and I just loved reading it today – it made my day. Our little one is getting slowly to explore more than before (11 months – wow), and I have to be soooo careful not to be too involved with HIS playtime. But what I found really wonderful is your way of framing what risk means for them – taking risk is important. And it is important to figure out on your own how far you can go, and when you have to stop. Not because someone told you, but because YOU know. I think it is an amazing life skill to be able to understand and embrace risk on our own terms. Thank you for a great post!

anna

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19 Suchada @ Mama Eve April 4, 2011

I’m so glad you like it, Anna! My youngest is the same age, and it’s fascinating to watch him discover new things.

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20 umatji April 4, 2011

oh great post! love it. Refusal is one of my main weapons! Thanks for such a great post.

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21 Suchada @ Mama Eve April 4, 2011

Thank you, umatji.

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22 Ariana April 4, 2011

I really needed to hear 4 and 5, especially #4. Wow. Thanks for the post; I’m glad I stumbled upon it from a link elsewhere :)

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23 Jess April 9, 2011

I love this!
It resonates with how I (try to) parent, and how I want to have kids that can work things out for themselves, mostly. I often say to my frustrated toddler (and his friends, too) “I just know you can figure it out!” and 9 times out of 10, they can, even though they are “too young” by some people’s standards. But kids truly are amazing, and so clever, imaginative, and innovative!

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24 Suchada @ Mama Eve April 9, 2011

Thank you, Jess! Even the littlest ones are so creative at problem-solving when we let them. It is so much fun to watch!

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25 Slc July 4, 2012

I think it’s so important that our children are allowed to explore and learn about social rules as long as its under supervision. If they are old enough to navigate every situation by themselves then they are at the point where they are in no need of parental supervision. I have seen parents allow their children kick and punch other kids because they are letting the kids ‘work it out’ until the other child hits back in self defense finally and thats when they decide to hurl their rear end of their seats and intervene to enforce the ‘no hitting rule’ Then there is that obnoxious kid who throws wood chips,snatches toys and blocks the top of the slide and his parents watch in adoration as little Johnny ‘explores /terrorizes’ the playground until one of the mothers finally does the mothers job for her and tells the kid no you may not keep hitting my child! Then little Johnny goes crying to momma who consoles the poor little darling and shoots shameful glances at the other parent. To the parent who asks can I let my child give the toy back on his own in his own time? Errrr No, you can’t! He just grabbed the toy off my child and you are rewarding him with playtime every time he snatches it off someone else. It does not belong to him make him return it. How about you take your child off the playground and teach him to respect other people’s things. Would you like it if I snatched your car keys off of you and told you oh I will return your car to you when I am ready ? What utter nonsense are you teaching your child other than if they want something all they have to do is grab it and they can return it when they feel like it? what happened to teaching children respect and about other peoples rights? You can’t solve every problem for them or fight every battle but they should be taught to respect others property and rights.

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26 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 4, 2012

It sounds like you’ve had some difficult experiences on the playground :( I want to make it clear that even though I advocate giving children the freedom to work out struggles (both physical and social) on their own, it doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t be close by to supervise and assist when needed. Certainly in the cases of children hitting and potentially hurting each other, parents need to step in.

My boys are at the age now that sometimes arguments start, a strike happens, or someone falls before I can be close enough to catch it. In the cases of hitting, there is no negotiation — hurting other people is never ok, and my boys are told that if it happens again, we will leave the situation. But I also try and help them work through what brought on that amount of frustration — to hear why they would hit someone and provide alternatives. Sometimes I can see they’re just too riled up and need to take some time away (this happens more at home, between the brothers, than outside with other people).

In the case of taking toys, I narrate, “You took this toy from Jane and she wants it back. Are you going to give it back to her, or do you want me to hand it back to her?” There are times when it’s appropriate to let children work out sharing themselves, and times when they need assistance with it — it’s up to us as parents to figure that out.

However, I also think we need to be gentle with other parents. Learning to navigate the playground and figuring out how much freedom to give our children and when can be very challenging. When we encounter parents who seem to be delinquent with stepping in, we can use the same skills we demonstrate for our children — narrating what’s happening and what we’re doing to remedy the situation, “I see Johnny is hitting Joe, so I’m going to move him away from my son. Would you mind keeping a closer eye on him when they’re by the slides? It seems to be a trigger for them and I don’t want either to get hurt.” By staying calm and being in control of the situation, we can model the behavior we’d like our own children to use, and show that it’s possible to work through the challenges of living in a world where people have a myriad of views and behaviors.

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27 Slc July 4, 2012

Suchada you are so right that we model the behavior that we would want our children to imitate! So it is possible to think these negative thoughts about others but stand our ground and express them in a more socially acceptable way. Unfortunately what the other mothers really THINK will determine if that child is invited for play dates etc and my experience has been that the playground has always been a great place to meet new people. No one likes a child that grabs and bullies so if we allow our children to do that we are not being fair to them. Sometimes children are great problem solvers and sometimes they are bullies, you may think he as solved a problem because everyone is silent but what has really happened is that your child has negotiated a situation in his favor and has bullied the other kids into silence. Kids sometimes need to learn the hard way how to defend themselves and I am all for letting kids work it out. What I am NOT in favor of is parents letting kids ‘work it out’ because they know that their child is assertive but they step in when it’s finally their child getting hit or yelled at. Also I think that parents who describe other parents as hovering should know facts first. Out of my two children, when there is a confrontation on the playground I NEVER have to worry about my daughter because she will always defend herself, I do however have to make sure that she is not infringing on others rights. My son I have to ‘not so obviously’ hover, because he Will not defend himself, the more I leave him the worse the situation gets untill I finally have to intervene because he is getting slapped and ganged up upon and no on e is doing anything. The parents finally notice when I go over there because God forbid someone would tell their little darlings NO. These are the parents who are VERY fast to jump if it is their child who is wronged. So the bottom line is that each child is different and it is our responsibility as parents to protect our children and we should never worry about being called ‘hoverers’ As adults we are not always able to solve problems all by ourselves which is why we have a police force and a court, so it’s important that children know that if they have tried to solve a problem but can’t its okay to Ask for help.

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28 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 5, 2012

I think there may be a misunderstanding about what I advocate, because it’s certainly not allowing a child who “grabs and bullies” or not protecting one who is getting “slapped and ganged up on”. It’s possible to allow our children to work out their own conflicts in a framework of safety and supervision, and that’s what I try to do with my own children and encourage others to do as well. It’s very important for parents to watch their children on the playground — when I’m there I give my boys lots of space (because at 2 and 3 they run all over the structure and don’t need me to follow them), but I keep my eyes on them, particularly if it looks like they’re getting into (or about to get into) a heated exchange with another child. If it doesn’t look like something that they can work out on their own, I calmly move closer, and begin to “sportscast” or narrate. I make sure I’m close enough to stop them from hurting each other if they look like they might hit. This allows them time to come up with solutions on their own, but also shows them I’m available if they need it.

What I don’t like to see is when parents immediately run up at the first sign of trouble and start telling their child what they should do to solve the problem, or immediately removing them from the situation. Sometimes conflicts take a minute to work out, and I believe children should have the opportunity to do it. My children always surprise me with the solutions that work for them, because they’re seldom what I would have come up with, but they work for the parties involved. If that type of solution keeps us from being invited to playdates, I can safely say those aren’t the types of outings we’d enjoy anyway (and we haven’t had a shortage of social interactions, so I have yet to worry that my approach has stopped my boys from making friends).

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29 Vanessa July 5, 2012

Thanks so much for this post, I know I still have some things I wish I could go back and undo,such as pushing my 3yr old in the swing, I just can’t figure out a way to discourage that and then think, is it really that bad? lol

However there has been other things I have been able to realize that who are we adults to dictate on children such as climbing up on the slide, actually I never have felt compelled to discourage that unless someone is at the top waiting, they also need to learn to be considerate of others, but I don’t demand he moves, I point out what is happening and he’ll move but I try to make sure it is his choice, sometimes he will be in the way and take long and he’ll be pushed but nothing that truly hurts him or bothers him so I allow him to make those “mistakes” but if it gets too much I so intervene, I am like you mentioned always with my eyes on but not right there next to him, this is harder for him to accept if we go to the park by ourselves though, sometimes he’ll want me to go and do things with him, I feel conflicted there because I want to encourage independence but at the same tie don’t want to be rigid, after all he is inviting me to participate in his world and I follow his lead those times, but I don’t do things for him (except for pushing on the swing lol) but with him.

I appreciate this post because even though I still have the above mentioned struggles, I still get it and it does feel lonely sometimes…

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30 Suchada @ Mama Eve July 5, 2012

Finding the right balance takes practice! I’m always observing, and learning, and reacting as I become more aware of my children and also people around me. As a new mom I was definitely a “hoverer”, and then when I first learned about RIE and how capable children are, I was way too “hands-off”. It was a learning curve for me to observe my children with others and see how they reacted, and find the right balance of support and independence. I doubt I will ever get it 100% right! I love that you’re out there trying it though. None of us are perfect parents, but we can’t learn and grow unless we take the leap to do things out of the ordinary.

Sometimes I feel like my third child is so lucky because they will have the benefit of improving after all the mistakes with my first two, but then I know my first one and I have the special bond because we’ve grown so much together on this journey. All we can do is keep on getting better!

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31 Vanessa July 6, 2012

Yes since I discovered RIE my perspective has changed a lot, I think a lot of those good intentioned things I have ended up doing where based on observation, learning from other parents but it has been a relief to know that there is another way :)

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