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Playground Etiquette Part 2: Practical Guidelines

Last week
I talked about the kind of moms and dads you
can expect to run into on the playground, and how to deal with

This week, I thought I’d give you a few practical guidelines
for getting around the blacktop.

For you see, there are a few rules that most every parent
acknowledges – even unconsciously – to keep playground
time safe and fair. There are, of course, those parents who choose
to ignore those rules, but newcomers often simply don’t know
better until they’ve been there a while and gotten the lay of
the land. So here’s a brief rundown –

Stroller parking – there’s
usually an area or two where most people park their strollers. Try
to scope it out before you plant your stroller in the middle of the
swing section, for example. In general you’ll see strollers
lined up along fences or walls, visible but out of the way of the
equipment. Of course, if you’re nervous about your Bugaboo
being stolen while you play, you are free to push it all over the
playground with you. Just be polite and keep it from blocking
stairs or slides, etc. Once you’ll make friends you’ll
all keep an eye on each other’s strollers, and take a tip
from me – leave the wallet at home and put your license and
cash in your pants pocket.

Swings – during peak playground hours, there can quickly
become a line for the swings. Suss out where the line sets up, and
then stay in it. Getting in line, then running around with your kid
for a while at the slide, then trying to get your spot in line back
is not cool. Once you get your turn at the swing, try to make a
mental note of which other “swingers” have been there
the longest. After the other swings have rotated out, you’re
the senior swinger and it’s time to give up your seat. Let me
add here that there are some parents who ignore this bit of park
etiquette and leave their kids planted on the swings for half an
hour at a time, too lazy to let them run around. I’d
encourage you not to lecture them – it won’t do any
good. They know what they’re doing, believe me. And if
it’s crowded, your child may not get to swing as long has
he’d like; remember there’s a line behind you. This is
a good time to talk about sharing and fairness, even amidst the

And if the swing hog happens to be in earshot while you deliver
this lecture to your child, so be it.

Slide etiquette – there are a few things to consider on the
slides. Some parents do not let their children walk up the slides
– only slide down them. If the park’s not crowded and
all the kids are her age, I’m happy to let Maddie practice
her motor skills crawling up the slide. Regardless, if there are
other kids around, don’t let your child sit endlessly at the
top or bottom – help them move on in a timely manner. This is
also a good place to train the child to be aware of her
surroundings: I’m working on having Maddie always look at the
top of a slide before walking in front of it, so she doesn’t
get knocked over, and always check before she goes down it so
she’s not the knocker. And finally, if it’s muddy out
and you let your child walk up the slide, I think it’s only
courteous to wipe down the slide with an old towel when he’s
finished. In a similar vein, if there’s a water sprinkler at
the park, try to confine wet sliding to one slide so parents have
at least one dry option.

Cleaning up – if you bring a snack to the park, make sure you
pick up all stray food your child drops. Maddie’s friend
Naomi is allergic to wheat, so every Cheerio that escapes
Maddie’s hand has to be tossed. Too many allergies out there,
and kids will eat anything off the ground.

Hand sanitizing – that liquid hand sanitizer stuff is a must
for the stroller, especially during cold season. If you see a child
with a runny nose on the swing, feel free to wipe the handles down
before putting your kid in it; just try to be unobtrusive about it.

And speaking of sick kids, if your child’s sick I think you
have two options:

1 – stay home. If my child’s contagious and sneezing or
coughing heavily, I’ll stay home as a courtesy to other
parents. Wish they all did the same.

2 – be honest. If Maddie’s on the tail end of something
but has cabin fever and needs to get out, we’ll go but
I’ll take precautions. If she sneezes I’ll wipe up
after her. If a child comes over to play with her or one of her
toys, I’ll tell the parent Maddie’s been sick. If your
child is borrowing the ball of a kid who was vomiting 24 hours ago,
wouldn’t you want to know?

Sharing – don’t bring a toy to the park that is special
or treasured. If your daughter’s going to freak out seeing
someone else touch her special Nite-Nite Bunny, best to keep that
one at home. We’ll handle toy sharing more next week.

Prioritizing – being polite to other adults is ingrained in
most of us. Keep in mind, though, that your “job” is
protecting your child. So if your child’s looking scared or
in over her head and a mom’s chatting your ear off,
don’t feel bad about interrupting her and saying,
“Excuse me, I must tend to my child.”

Train your children – explain as you go, rather than simply
keeping them safe. Don’t just physically guide them; teach
them to walk far away from swings so they don’t get hit in
the head. Teaching your child basic safety from the beginning means
less work and worry for the other parents. I had a four-year-old
run out of nowhere one morning, into the swings, and got bonked
squarely on the head by the back of Maddie’s baby swing. The
babysitter was 50 feet away at the time. Now I keep half an eye out
at all times.

So hopefully these guidelines will help get you started. If you
disagree with my opinions, or have extra ones to add, please feel
free to post; I’m always interested to hear what other
parents think are important playground rules.

In next week’s final installment, we’ll tackle the
sticky topic of how to deal with other kids.


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