Playground Etiquette 101

With spring in the air, I recently took my kids to a local playground. It’s been years since we had an outing like this, yet while I was there, I couldn’t help but remember all the things that would frustrate me as a parent of a young child at the playground. You know…when the big kids show up and sometimes ruin the fun for the little ones. Or when other park parents are oblivious to what their kids are doing. Or when all the swings stayed occupied, no matter how many parents and kids were patiently waiting in line.

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as playground etiquette. Most of these “unwritten rules” are common sense, while some of these so-called rules could be up for debate. No one wants to be a playground cop, but here are some guidelines that have been suggested by friends who frequent parks often….

Know the appropriate age. Sometimes the equipment states the age minimum and maximum. I like to interpret it this way: if your child can climb up or down the slide in a way that’s not meant to be, maybe it’s a sign your child is too old for the playground. Or if you have to climb the equipment with your child, maybe he is too young.

Be mindful of those waiting to play. While you and/or your child are playing, take notice of lines behind you (especially at the slides, swings, rock wall or other equipment), and be willing to step aside after a short while. Please don’t let your child cut in line, and make sure they wait (and see!) that the child ahead on the slide is at the bottom before going down.

Keep an eye on your children, no matter the age. If your child is old enough to play unassisted, then take in the weather, sit back and relax if you can. Or if your child is on the younger side, stay close enough to let them safely try new things without having to squeeze yourself down a slide or into a tiny tunnel. The definitions of “hovering” and “free range” could be subjective, so my advice would be to take the middle road at public playgrounds.

Don’t be afraid to pull out your phone. A playground is a place for parents to unwind, too! Too often moms criticize other moms for being on their phone at a playground. It’s okay to check your phone while your kids are playing—especially if you’re keeping one eye on the phone and the other on your kids (see rule above!). If you see a mom on her phone, maybe those were the only 30 minutes she had that day to sit and relax while her children played. Maybe she is a single mom who works all day long and never has a moment to catch up on personal e-mail, text messages, or Facebook.

Keep an eye on others’ children. Stuff happens when you least expect it. If you happen to see a child (other than your own) fall down or get hurt or do something potentially dangerous, please offer to help and not let the child suffer alone. A crying child is a crying child, and consoling from any parent is welcomed, at least until Mom and/or Dad arrive.

Be open to sharing. By all means, let your child share his ride on a toy—or sidewalk chalk, or bubbles—with another child who asks (unless you are worried about liability). It’s a good way to teach your kids lessons in sharing. On the flip side, if you see your own child trying to sneak something without asking first—or get turned down even if she asked first—it’s a good idea to intervene before it gets awkward for that other mom. One thing not to share, please: snacks and drinks!

Be willing to use your gentle, but firm, voice. If my child were not following these rules, I would want another parent to say something (nicely, but firmly). At the end of the day, we are responsible for our own decisions and behaviors. What might seem okay to you and your child, might be considered offensive or risky to someone else. It’s a balancing act, especially in a public setting.



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