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Playground Etiquette Part 3: Other People's Kids

For the past few Fridays, I’ve been
talking about the finer points of life on the playground. target="_blank"
Two weeks ago I discussed the kinds of moms and dads you
can expect to run into during play time; href="http://www.1mother2another.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=423&Itemid=46">
last week
I gave some practical tips for navigating
swing time.

This week, we’re all about the most delicate part of getting
around the playground – dealing with other people’s

One of the most frustrating aspects of playground time is how much
you interact with other children, and how little control you have
over them. Not all parents have the same opinions on child-rearing
that you do, and keeping your child safe and happy during play time
without getting into a fight with a caregiver can be very tricky
sometimes. And if you live in an area like I do where English is
not the primary language and there’s a collision of cultures
– you hear much more Spanish, Hindustani, and Romanian most
days than you do English – then you feel even more on your

I quizzed my Mommy Focus Group in putting
together this series of articles, and people talked at great length
about dealing with other children. My friend href="http://leavened.blogspot.com">Graham for instance,
said someone asked him once why he still follows his daughter so
closely on the playground; after all, she’s almost three and
doesn’t need as much physical supervision. “I do it to
teach her how to interact with others,” he answered. My
friend Cathy has a great habit of simply trying to voice aloud
what’s happening, in as positive a way as possible: if a
child comes up to her toddler and begins abruptly
“playing” with him or invading his space, she’ll
say, “Hello! This is Phil – what’s your
name?” Speaking to a strange child early on in an interaction
lets the stranger know that the mommy is there, and is watchful.

Toy sharing is a big area. If we bring toys to the playground,
we’re prepared to share them with anyone who is interested.
I’ve learned that some toys are too precious for Maddie to
willingly share – even with her best friend Naomi – but
a ball, for example, or her box of chalk, she’ll share with a
minimum of fuss. If a child wants to play with one of
Maddie’s toys, I’ll try to model the correct way to do
it. A child simply walking up, grabbing the toy and marching off is
not ok; I’ll go after him, say, “Hello! Do you want to
play with Madeleine’s ball?” If Madeleine was still
playing with it, I’ll say something like, “Why
don’t you play with my daughter, and toss the ball back and
forth?” I won’t let a child simply take a toy in use
and leave. But if the ball’s not in play, I’m content
letting it go off somewhere. Here again, Cathy will define it to
the child: “You are welcome to take the ball and play with it
anywhere within the blue playground area.”

And if your child sees a toy and wants to play, you’ve got a
quick decision to make. I don’t ever let Maddie play with
unique or “special” toys like bikes or sparkly, fancy
things; she cries too hard when she has to return it. But if
it’s a generic ball or pail or truck, we’ll look around
for the child and caregiver, ask if it’s ok if we play, and
then use it for a while. If you’re the one borrowing the toy,
it’s your responsibility to find out to whom it belongs, and
make sure it’s returned.

Snack-sharing it totally up to you. Maddie has a snack every day at
the park, and we’ll often have kids run up and beg something
to eat. I’m ambivalent about sharing; there are kids out
there who aren’t really hungry, and are simply bored and see
something new. I’m also leery of allergies. But if I am going
to share, I insist the child ask their caregiver first for
permission – nine times out of ten they don’t want it
enough to go to that trouble.

Always remember that as much as you want to be respectful of other
people, your primary job is to keep your child safe. If a larger
child approaches mine in a dangerous way – I’ve had a
ten-year-old run over Maddie’s foot on purpose on a scooter
– I’m not afraid to chase them down and ask where their
“adult” is. You have every right to tell a strange
toddler that hitting is not OK, and physically remove your child
from their reach. Again, my friend Cathy’s a pro at this,
trying to use positive but firm language: “He doesn’t
want to be picked up or touched, but enjoys playing
peek-a-boo.” I had a three-year-old spend an entire morning
following Maddie around and touching her face and arms. At first, I
explained she didn’t like strangers to touch her. Next, I
gave him two options; he could stop touching her, or we would go
somewhere else to play. Even after we moved, he followed and
continued to touch her. At that point I gave him two more options:
stop touching her, or I’d go talk to his grandmother. He
stopped touching her.

You’ll quickly learn which children are dangerous and
unsupervised, and how to avoid them. You’ll also make friends
with other caregivers who share your opinions on child-rearing, and
you’ll look out for each other’s kids.

Finally, you’ll teach your child how to interact with others
by narrating what’s going on. Explaining aloud why
you’re waiting in line for the swings, describing the reason
for going up the right side of the stairs, reminding them to be
mindful when running near babies and smaller toddlers, teaching
them to say “excuse me” and “sorry” when
they bump into others, will all serve to build a confident and kind

As much as the playground is time for fun and spending all that
pent-up energy, it’s also an early and incredibly important
place for learning. Our own children are constantly absorbing how
we treat other adults and kids, and I am always mindful of the
example I’m setting for a watchful Madeleine. Whether
it’s receiving unsolicited advice, waiting in line for the
swings, or negotiating toy sharing with a stranger, my actions are
laying the groundwork for how Maddie’s going to interact with
the world around her.

The playground ain’t just a walk in the park.


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