The 10 Rules Of The Playground

by Lindsey Barnes
Originally Published: 
A small young boy swinging on a swing no the playground

I often struggle between the two extremes of motherhood. In general, I am more of a self-deprecating, imperfect mom than a pain-in-the-ass-perfect mom. I know I am not entirely a role model mom, and yet I am not exactly fearful of child services showing up either.

The playground is one place I struggle the most. I want to just let my kid run around and not give a shit, but that’s not possible. It’s the park. There are rules, or at least that’s what I like to tell her. Currently, I am looking for a balance between zoning out and effectively losing her (within the gated area) and my overwhelming desire to reprimand other people’s kids for doing the shit I tell my kid not to do. The balance I currently have consists of teaching moments mixed in with epic parenting fails.

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My solution is this list of common sense playground rules for both parents and kids. Even though I don’t think we should have to write them out, these rules benefit us all and would makeplayground time infinitely more enjoyable if universally followed.

1. If there is a gate, close it. Were you born in a barn? Yes? That’s rare and fairly unsanitary, but I will let you off the hook. The rest of you need to close the gate behind you when you come in and out. Nearly every park I have been to has a gate that locks. It is each of our responsibility to pull the gate closed behind us. If someone is also passing through directly behind us, we should stand there and force a creepy eye contact moment to make sure they have acknowledged their responsibility of closing the gate. If we knew the gate was going to stay closed, we could all relax a little and let kids run free. But that is also dependent on #2…

2. Do not let any lone child in or out of the park. If we know that the gate is going to remain closed, and that when it is open a conscious, responsible adult is going to stop any little ones from making a break for it, we could truly relax, sit down, not have to hover over them every minute, and not feel like such a terrible caregiver if we do let them out of our line of vision for a second.

3. No hitting. I mean, come on. I don’t want to have to say something to your kid if they’re being an ass, so let’s just make sure they know this rule and save us all from that awkward moment. I know I’m supposed to comfort the victim and not focus on the perpetrator (yeah, Baby Center psycho babble!), but fuck that. The reality is that I need my kid to see that the lesson is universal and that I truly believe that no one should hit, not just her. Oh, and when I do say something, it is going to be matter of fact and not sugar coated. (“No. We don’t hit,” as opposed to “Whoopsydoodles! Please oh please keep your sweet hands to yourself darling little man!”) Because yes, I say “no” to my kid and I don’t really have it in me to be constructive and positive to your kid just because you don’t use “negative” words when responding to my kid getting punched.

4. Don’t let your kid play on any one swing/toy for too long when someone else is waiting. There are the “park toys” – abandoned toys left for everyone’s enjoyment, and the swings/slides, etc. Just be aware if another kid wants to use that thing your kid is using. If you have ever waited more than 10 minutes for a swing with a screaming child at your feet or in your arms, you know this is an important one. Which brings me to #5…

5. Be patient and everybody gets a turn. This is a life lesson for the kids, but also one of the fundamental park rules. Obviously they can (and should) wait a bit, but everyone should get a turn. Plus, I would much rather negotiate my next Word With Friends move than my kid’s next turn on the rickety tricycle.

6. Don’t let your kid run unattended through the swing area. Except for that one time when someone else opened the gate and let her in unattended, I totally follow this one. Thanks dude, for making me look like an irresponsible jerk. In the interest of full disclosure, someone else found her and tipped me off, but she was quickly retrieved, so everybody just calm down.

7. If there is sand in your local playground, you may be unfortunate enough to have a kid who likes playing in the sand. My kid used to avoid the sand pit like the rat playground it is, but recently developed a love for it. So disgusting. And yet I’m not gonna be the one to tell her she can’t play in there. I don’t need her growing up with some weird sand fetish because I banned it early on. But where was I? Oh yeah… don’t fucking throw sand. My kid got a fistful of sand in the face recently. (It was quick and unexpected and the thrower’s mom dealt with it in a speedy manner.) I promptly flushed her eyes out with water (my kid, not the thrower’s mom), but I did feel terrible that her eyes were all red and irritated for the rest of the day. Plus, can you imagine what it’s like to go from not knowing someone would ever throw a fistful of sand directly at your face from 10 inches away, to the cold hard reality of it happening? Must be as groundbreaking as going from never having thrown sand in someone’s face to having actually done it. Life lessons, little ones, life lessons.

8. Slide down the slide, and CLEAR OUT. You know, so you’re not blown away by the next kid coming down. This is definitely one of those lessons best taught by experiencing it, but it’s worth mentioning here.

9. Keep an eye on your kid and make sure they’re following the rules. Teach them the etiquette and THEN set them free so you can go play on your phone for a bit.

10. And finally: Don’t tut-tut or tsk-tsk, give disapproving glares, roll your eyes at, judge, huff or do anything the least bit condescending towards any other caregiver at the park... unless, of course, their kid is being a major jerk and they are nowhere to be found. In these cases,tut-tut and tsk-tsk to your heart’s content.

I know, no one likes a rule enforcer, but everyone likes a rule follower. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

I’m sure I might sound a bit like a helicopter parent here, but I’m not. I’m just trying to get the kid swung, slid, and home for a nap without any injuries or altercations.

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