Navigating the Minefield of Playground Etiquette


V running excitedly at her favorite "playplace!"

I’m the mother of a toddler, and as such, I am embarking upon the world of playgrounds, mall play places, open gyms, and library story hours.  All are places where my child interacts with a myriad of kids, some older, some younger, some timid, some aggressive, some with attentive parents, some with parents who use these settings as a time to take a breather.  As my daughter, V moves into the social world, I find myself struggling with how to best help her navigate this new landscape, and agonize as I analyze how to best address the different social situations we encounter.

For example:

Two approximately, four year old boys running amok on a playground while their supervising adults gab at a picnic table across the way, yelling “Ew, you’re a girl, you can’t play with us.” at my then 18 month old daughter.  And then making additional rude, gender discriminating comments.  I, stupefied, and waiting for said adults to say something along the lines of “No, that’s not nice, we treat girls with respect not mean words,” say nothing.  Leave feeling like I’ve taught nothing to my daughter or to the kids.  Feel like the worst feminist ever.  Then feel like a dolt for expecting anything else from 4 year olds.  But expect more from the adults…


Witnessed:  a dad sitting mutely, as his much larger kid, picks up and shakes two children, strangers to them, repeatedly, at the mall play place.  Finally, the father of the kids snaps, saying “Why are you picking up my kid!”  to the child.  The father of the aggressor finally stands up, saying “No, (insert child’s name) come here.”  Eventually, after failed attempts to control his child without the dad moving a muscle, they leave.


We just put V on a teeter-totter.  She is so excited. Two girls about 5 years old approach having seen her just get on.  “Can she get off of here?”  “No”, I reply, “she just got on and it’s her turn.”  I feel like a jerk.


After frustration mounts as over 7+ year olds nearly stampede my 22 month old during so-called toddler (under 7 years) time during the open gym program at the local rec center, patience is waning. Older child (probably over 7) comes up and grabs climbing rope from my daughter V’s hand.  No adult in sight.  I say, “That was very rude.  She was playing with that.  You can have a turn in just a minute.”  Feel I’ve overstepped some boundary.  Child smiles, lets V have a turn, and chats away with me.  Hmm.


Friend’s child visits on a playdate.  He swats at V over a toy. Mother is too far away to reach him in time to stop hitting. I gently catch his hand before impact, saying “No, no, we don’t hit.”  Wonder if mother hates me, although I’d want her to do the same if V was going to hit.


V is on biting frenzy.  It happens when her little friends take toys from her.  Wanting to prevent biting issues, I intervene more than I’d like in sharing struggles.  Feel like other parents must label me as “helicopter parent.”  This alternates with giving a darn, after all, I’m protecting their kid from the biting.  Argh.

Lately, it seems like there is nothing like the interaction between my kid and another to make me feel off kilter.  I have my bearings as her parent, but am still learning my role as an adult around other people’s kids when they are interacting with my daughter.  I am constantly deciding between:


letting V work out her social struggles


modeling the appropriate behavior so she has some resources and tips to use


leaving discipline to the other kid’s parent


protecting the physical well-being of my child and sticking up for her when she doesn’t yet have the skills to do so herself


I know there are many factors that contribute to difficult social situations involving any two kids.  I have been the mom who intervenes and the mom who is distracted at the crucial moment.  I know some children’s behavioral challenges come along with clinical issues and that it is sometimes difficult to discern when those are coming into play.  I also want to teach my daughter how to stand up for herself by modeling behavior and for standing up for her when she cannot.  I know with time, she will develop additional skills and resources and I will have to let her flail from time to time in order for her to learn and grow.  I know I will always intervene when physical aggression is coming into play; that’s just something I cannot accept.  I know parents teach their kids in different ways, coming from different value systems, and that I cannot expect everyone to see every potential disciplinary situation with the same lens. But it still is hard being a parent on a playground.  You never know where the mines are located, which buttons will make another parent explode when pushed.  So I try to tread carefully, and I hope others will forgive me as I occasionally stumble.  I’m working to give them the benefit of the doubt, myself.




5 responses to “Navigating the Minefield of Playground Etiquette

  • Juliana

    Been doing this for four years now and still struggle constantly with this. Luckily, A is getting to be one of the “big kids” of the typical morning crowds since the kids older than her are in school. So, she usually gets left alone these days. Caroline, on the other hand, seems to be a target. Breaks my heart every time. I know they’re just kids, but I can’t help but want to kick their little tushies when they are mean to my kids.

    Last Friday, two boys were on the playground aged approx. 8 and 5 while my girls 4 and 2 were there. They had no adult supervision. The younger boy said to his older brother in front of my girls, “Boys are more awesomer than girls – right?” Before I said anything, I waited to hear the older brother’s answer. He said nothing. So, I just let it go too. I don’t think my girls heard anyway. But, when there is no adult around, I do tend to say a lot more to the little hooligans.

    Glad you addressed this issue as I think a lot parents struggle with wanting to protect their kids while not crossing other parent’s boundaries. Of course, it would be a lot easier if everyone consistently watched and disciplined their own kids when necessary. . .

  • Incredible Shrinking MamaStacey

    I know this post is a little old, but I just wanted to say I completely agree with it! I am often struggling about what to do. How far do I go to let the kids work out their sharing or taking turn struggles? Once at the mall park, my three year old was stuck at the top of a slide. There was an “older” boy just laying upside down on the slide part, not moving, and a long line of kids behind her. I could see she was super stressed, not able to go down, and not able to go back. The kids behind her were pushing, and she kept saying “excuse me” to the upside down boy on the slide to no avail, with no parent to be seen. I let it go for a few minutes, and finally intervened and asked the boy to please let the others have a turn because there was a long line. He complied. Then I was scanning the other parents to make sure one wasn’t going to come over yell at me for saying something to their son when they didn’t.

    • Pamela

      I’ve been there; also with a kiddo climbing up a slide when kids were coming down (and no parents to advise otherwise)! Thanks for commenting; I always welcome comments on new or older posts and I’m glad you enjoyed! I’m all for letting kids have a little space at the playground, but per their age and maturity; if they haven’t learned playground rules yet, it’s up to the parents to be present and teaching along the way. Thanks again!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: