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Are parents ruining play time?

Over the last few months our son Harry has learned to not only walk but run. He’s so active and busy that it’s become pretty damn essential for him to blow off as much steam as possible during the day so that he sleeps well as night.

This means trips to the playground have become our life. When we first started going, he would hesitantly approach other toddlers and older kids and literally just stand next to them with a good-natured smile – that’s it! He’d watch them squabble over a particular piece of play equipment, almost a bit bemused, and was reluctant to get too involved.

"Trips to the playground have become our life." Image via iStock.

These days, it’s a different story. He’s getting amongst it and causing chaos, stealing others’ scooters (not to mention buckets, spades etc…), chasing little girls (always the little girls!) around the playground and pushing in front of other kids in the cue for the slide.

He has gradually learned this behaviour from other kids. And as he learns how to behave in the playground, so do I.

As a first time mum who didn’t have any nieces, nephews or friends’ kids to take to the park, it’s been interesting to watch how all of us mums behave and interact.

Not an accurate depiction. Image via iStock.
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There’s that certain age, somewhere between babyhood and the terrible twos, where our children still need close supervision on play equipment or they’re likely to hurt themselves. So, all the mums of the newly walking babies and toddlers hover around rescuing them from situations and teaching them how to ‘play nice’ – yes, all pretty important, but are we ruining their play time with our own ideas of what’s correct?

The other day Harry pushed a smaller baby over – it was the first time I’d seen him do that to anyone, and I was pretty shocked. But my reaction was nothing compared with the horror of the smaller baby’s mum. While she was polite enough as I apologised profusely, explaining that I’d never seen him do that before and he must have learned it at daycare, the look on her face (and subsequent bitching to her friend!) said it all. She was livid and thought my child was evil.

What I really wanted to say to her was: “Get some perspective woman! I mean, you just wait a few months until your child is more mobile and picks that up from the older kids – you’ll be doing the same!”.

Of course, I know pushing isn’t nice – but boys will be boys. It had happened to Harry as well a few weeks earlier. He was pushed and hit his head, but I was okay with it. I laughed and empathised with the culprit’s mum about ‘our crazy toddlers’.

Boys will be boys. Image via iStock.
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The thing is, they can be too little to understand what they’re doing wrong. You can’t reason with a 16 month old who isn’t talking! They kind of get it when you say “NO” over and over…but it’s not super effective.

We hover over our children, rather than letting them figure it out for themselves. We position them ‘just so’ on the slide instead of letting them work out how to manipulate their body into the right positions. We teach them how to ‘play nice’ and ‘share’, but we’re forcing our ideas of the right way to do something onto them.

I’ve seen so many mums following their child around and picking up after them instead of teaching them to do it themselves, or telling them off for even just harmlessly touching another child on the shoulder or ‘borrowing’ a bucket and spade. One mum even dragged her child away from Harry the other day because he’d hugged her very gently – I mean, come on.

What would happen if we left them to their own devices? They’d sort themselves out, surely? Yes, they might bump their head a little, but surely they’d learn a lot quicker that way?

Yes, we need to supervise, but why not do it from a little further away and just chill out about it a bit more. Kids will be kids – let’s let them discover and thrive.

What's your playground approach?