Are You A Playground Policemum?

Posted on Nov 11 2013 - 11:01pm by megganmamma

The King Of Swing

We were at the playground the other day.  In spite of all the swings and slides on offer, Joshi had become engrossed with a little broom he’d found there.  He was loving it and sweeping everything in sight.  Then this kid, a bit older than him, came over and took the broom.  Joshi was totally fine with it – the other kid’s mom however, wasn’t!   She yelled at her kid, telling him off for taking the broom and took the broom back to Joshi.   Of course, by this time, Joshi was busy playing with something else.  I tell you what, a police cap wouldn’t have looked out of place on that mum.

Playground Interactions Are Often More About The Parents

The whole scenario made me think about how funny us parents are in playgrounds.  Playground interactions are more often about the parents than the kids.  It’s all the parent’s stuff that plays out through whatever’s happening between the kids.  Was this mum really bothered about whether Joshi had the broom or not?   Maybe.  Or, perhaps she was anxious to demonstrate to me and the other mums her zero tolerance policy for any ‘naughtiness’.   Swift intervention could head off disapproving glares and reassure the other mum (in this case me) that her son had been ‘dealt with’.  Perhaps she really just wanted to teach her kid what she deemed to be important skills around how to behave in a way that’s acceptable.  Or was it a combo mix of all of the above?

Of course it’s easy to reason in hindsight, but had she not felt compelled to react angrily she could’ve …

  1. Gently got her kid to ask Joshi if he could use the broom, showing that it’s pretty cool to ask for something from someone before taking it.
  2. Let her kid use the broom for a bit and then take it back to Joshi, showing some consideration for them both.
  3. Just let the kids get on with it.

The Confusion Between Teaching Ownership And Encouraging Sharing

I see it a lot in playgrounds and on the beach – mums who hover over every interaction between the kids, doing all they can to return each object to the kid it belongs to.  “No darling, that’s not your bucket, that’s Tom’s bucket, let’s give it back to him.  Here’s your bucket…”  Isn’t this ongoing reinforcement of what belongs to who simply teaching kids that they should heavily guard their possessions?   Instead of a kid being  taught that “this is your bucket, your spade, or Tom’s bucket or spade,” why can’t we just teach kids that this is ‘a’ bucket, ‘a’ spade, etc.  Surely sharing would be a whole lot easier if it didn’t come with the sense of loss that typically accompanies handing over something that you’ve learnt is yours.  It must be pretty confusing for kids when adults put so much emphasis on what possession belongs to what kid and then seconds later tell them to hand over their guarded possession to another kid because they need to ‘share’.  Although, according to Dr Sears (affiliate link), the “mine” stage of toy possessiveness is a normal passing phase of toddler play, there must be many ways that us adults can lessen all the conflict around it.

Toddlers Learn More From Our Actions Than Our Words

The way I see it is that kids really learn more from our actions than from our words.  So if you want your kids to share, rather than repeatedly bombard them with endless verbal prompts, show them how it’s done by regularly sharing your belongings with others.  They may not learn the sharing lesson in the brief amount of time you’d like them to, but they’ll eventually get it.   And what’s the hurry?  Of course it may be embarrassing for you if your kid goes through a phase of not wanting to share, (which they probably will),  but isn’t that your stuff?   – your anxiety about them not looking bad and you looking good.  So what.  Relax.  It will happen.  Rather let it happen authentically and in its own time than be anxious for your kid to learn the sharing thing fast.   Being in a hurry to teach your kids certain lessons may only ingrain in them impatience, stress, anxiety, etc because what they’re really learning is your way of being.

If kids learn from people’s actions (and they do) then that little kid in the playground would have learnt from his mum that when you’re annoyed with something you shout and get angry.  He would also have learnt that when you want something from someone you grab it off them. He’d grabbed the broom off Joshi in just the same manner in which his mum then grabbed the broom off him.  According to Dr Sears, many children don’t object to the sharing aspect, but rather to the aggressive removal of a toy from their possession.

It’s Always Nice To Be On The Same Page As Another Playground Mum

You do sometimes meet mums in the playground who are on the same page as you.   Minutes later Joshi was on a tricycle.  Before he was properly off a little girl came along and jumped right on.  Joshi was unperturbed at first but then one of those silent tug-of-war struggles began between them.  No one was getting hurt, neither child was throwing a wobbly.  Standing next to the little girl’s mother, I turned to her and said, “why don’t we just let them work it out on their own.”  She happily agreed.

So What Are You Like In The Playground?

Now I’d love to hear from you.  Are you the sort of mum who intervenes often or who hardly intervenes at all?  Do you mostly leave the kids to ‘sort it out.’   What does it take for you to step in?   Post a comment below. 

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8 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. kate November 11, 2013 at 11:38 pm -

    Ah, the playground! What an excellent place to find fuel for any blog post! I totally know what you mean about the sharing. You have to share things yourself in order for your kids to learn how to share. I will never forget watching this mum swat her 2 year old away from ‘her crepe’ at the market, and told him that this was hers and they he had to eat his food! As if!!! We share everything in our house and surprise surprise, my girls have been pretty good so far at sharing.

    • megganmamma November 12, 2013 at 3:44 pm -

      Yes! An excellent place for fuel for blog posts! Yesterday at the playground a mum was agreeing with her daughter of 4 that she’ll never die. Hm, that was an interesting one that got me thinking!

      A day later and I still have the image in my mind of the mum swatting her kid away from her crepe! That’s too funny.

  2. Jane November 12, 2013 at 1:25 am -

    Sukie’s favorite playground activity is the swing and there are never enough so we have to wait our turn. At first she did not like that, but after a little chat to explain why we have to wait she got the hang of it. Now she will wait or just go and find something else to play with. I do feel i need to step in when she is trying to “mother” another child. she is such a caring &(and bossy) little girl she can be a bit in-you-face and is not always as gentle as she could be with other kids which they of course do not like. so i do feel i need to rain her in a bit so we are working on understanding personal space and how to help without being overwhelming etc. I would not make a big deal of it, i would just remind her about being gental or what ever. Thanks for sharing!!!

    • megganmamma November 12, 2013 at 3:42 pm -

      Thanks for sharing too Janey! I can understand why you feel the need to step in when Sukie gets bossy and in-their-face. Sounds like you’re doing what you can – gentle repetition, again and again. She’ll eventually get it. I guess the other thing you could do, which of course you may already be doing, is give positive reinforcement to her when you see her taking care of others in a way that’s not overwhelming. Showing and telling her how happy the other kid seems to be when she cares for them in a gentle way.

  3. Natasha November 12, 2013 at 7:44 pm -

    I feel like I wrote this post myself!! I’ve had the same experiences on the playground and I just don’t get it. If you want your child to behave in a certain manner, you act in that manner and your child will follow suit. I agree with your suggestions of what the mom could have instead done with her child and it’s exactly what I would have done.
    I feel like moms are constantly “defending” themselves in a playground. They don’t want to be seen as the “bad mom” who’s child doesn’t share and rather than take a minute and respond, they just react (snatching toy from her child and giving it back to Joshi).

    • megganmamma November 13, 2013 at 6:24 pm -

      Hi Natasha, thanks for sharing. It’s nice to know there are other mums out there who resonate with seeing it from this perspective! Happy parenting. 🙂

  4. Kat November 28, 2013 at 5:41 pm -

    I just read this one now so apologies for the late comment but couldn’t agree more with you! In reality it’s pretty hard sometimes when your crazy toddler just cruises up and grabs something from another kid, especially one who is littler and doesn’t understand… but yeah, I do always try and explain to the Dude why it would be awesome if he could let the other kid have a go for a while and then it’ll be his turn and he can have a go.

    I hadn’t really had to deal with this until fairly recently when we moved to Canberra and I started taking the Dude, who is now two and a half, to these free ‘paint and play’ sessions where you’ll sometimes get 30 other kids and their parents playing and getting involved in the myriad of activities on offer. It’s been great actually, and I feel so proud when Dude spontaneously gives something to another child or just plays nicely with another without my prompting. 🙂

    • megganmamma November 29, 2013 at 1:01 pm -

      Hi Kat! Yes, it’s at one of those free paint and play places where we had the experience with the broom! They’re packed full of those funny little interactions, aren’t they.