The Playground Battles

As soon as the sun starts to shine, it seems the playgrounds and parks that seemed so large and vast in the winter shrink.  The exponential increase in children not only means more playmates, but often more playground battles and fights too.  Everyone wants a swing, there aren’t enough sand toys, children grab toys from each other without asking, and children find themselves tripping over each other leading to the inevitable cries and fights that come with it.  The usual parental reaction is to jump in and stop it.  After all, isn’t that our job as parents?  Keep our kids both safe and from hurting other people (physically or emotionally)?

What we need to ask is what this actually does.  Are we helping our children by intervening in every little battle or are we actually hurting their ability to learn to work things out themselves?  As we look into this matter, it seems we may be doing more harm than good.  So what is a parent to do?

First, step back.  If no one is really getting physically hurt, it’s okay to see if the kids can work things out themselves.  Will there be some pushing, maybe even a hit, and a few tears?  Probably, in fact, I’d be shocked if there wasn’t.  Although our parental instinct seems to be to avoid this type of display, in fact it actually helps children develop their socialization and problem solving skills by being able to try and work things out without interference.  You’d be amazed how readily they often do work things out and how the cries and quickly replaced with smiles and laughter.

Imagine if every time you got into a slight disagreement with someone at work, a higher up jumped in to “solve” it for you; often telling you what to say and what to do.  How do you think you’d handle it when they were no longer there?  Would you learn how to compromise or would you only want your own way because for once someone isn’t telling what to do and how to do it?  Although we are in charge of teaching our children a lot about the world – including elements of socialization – we don’t teach them if we never give them a chance to try out their own ways or even to try out what we have been working on instilling through modeling and discussion outside the playground.  To give them these opportunities requires us to step back and observe and only interfere when absolutely needed.

Second, teach your child about respecting other people’s time and rights to activities and toys by ditching the time limits on toys or swings.  It’s common practice for us to tell our children that as soon as someone wants what they have, they have a time limit on it, usually the “five more minutes” rule.  The question we should be asking is, ‘What is this teaching our kids?’  We believe it teaches them the value of sharing, but really it teaches them that when they want something, they have the right to it pretty darn quickly, but once they have it, they may lose those rights just as quickly.  It’s really rather confusing.

Instead, if it’s your child that’s asking, tell them they have to wait until the other person is done (and of course they can ask when that person might be done, but they should be prepared for an ‘I don’t know’ answer).  If it’s your child playing with the toy or taking their turn on a swing, inform the other child (or parent) that you will get them when you are finished.  It’ll be hard at first, but you’ll be teaching all children that they may not get what they want, when they want and that they have the right to enjoy what they’ve been waiting for.  If there’s never any reward for patience, why would our children even bother to learn what we are always preaching?

Finally, have your child do their own talking and playing (when possible).  If they want to join a game, have them go up and do the asking.  If they want a turn on a swing, have them ask.  When they do join in play or get the toy they want, don’t interfere unless requested and necessary (for example, pushing kids on the swings).  Some children will really be too shy to do this and that’s okay, but even starting with walking with them, holding their hand, but having them speak may be doable.  The point of this is to make them active participants in their own play and their own environment.  Our children need to be able to speak up for themselves in all areas of their lives, something they can’t do if we’re always doing it for them.  Only then can they truly enjoy their time at the playground.


By Tracy Cassels

May 12, 2014