Playground Etiquette: Scary Mommy

Ask Scary Mommy: I Don’t Like Big Kids Around My Toddler At The Playground

March 4, 2020 Updated October 22, 2020

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Scary Mommy and mmg1design/Getty

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week… what do you do when you have a toddler at the playground while bigger kids are constantly whizzing by? Should big kids be in a separate play space? Have your own questions? Email [email protected]

Dear Scary Mommy,

I’m curious how you feel about big kids and park etiquette. I don’t feel like I should have to hover over my toddler, so that she doesn’t get knocked over by bigger kids. There’s constantly kids I would assume to be aged 8-12 playing chasing games, tag, rough-housing, etc. on/near the equipment. It’s unnerving when she just wants to be able to play! Isn’t the playground meant for little kids? I feel like these big kids could easily take their games elsewhere, whereas the little kids don’t have this option. What do you think?

I think you’re probably not going to like my answer. 

But, I should point out that this is a topic that comes up in online parenting groups quite often. Not this exact scenario, per se, but playground dynamics and what is/isn’t appropriate “park” behavior is a hot topic.

I don’t appreciate or agree with the whole “toddlers/preschoolers own the playground” narrative. I think that is a sweeping generalization based off infrequent personal anecdotes. A small kid getting knocked over or having their finger stepped on (while frustrating) is NOT indicative of some widespread problem with tweens ruining the public playground experience for their younger peers.

A lot of playground equipment is rated for kids aged 5+. If your toddler is playing on equipment meant for those bigger kids, then you have to understand that they are sharing a cooperative environment that was literally intended for kids of an older peer group.

Some playgrounds have areas meant for the under-five set. As the parent of four kids, two who fall into the toddler category, I love this. If big kids are in these areas, then they should also be more mindful of the space they are in. Should they be doing parkour in the toddler area? No. Should they be allowed in to hang out with a parent or younger sibling who is also in the area? Yes.

Furthermore, kids with varying abilities may be need to use this equipment to be able to safely access and enjoy the playground. And we often can’t tell the age of a child by merely looking at them, and we need to remember that.

The bottom line? Kids that are 8-12+ still like to play. They still need exercise, fresh air, and open spaces. We are constantly shouting how we want our kids to spend more time outside, moving their bodies, playing and “being little” for longer, and not stuck in front of a screen, but then they get out there and play and they are suddenly “too big” and “too intense.”

Public parks and playgrounds exist for everyone’s general (safe, legal) use. No individual community member gets to be the gatekeeper of a public park. There’s middle ground, and we can find it.

Have your own question? Email [email protected]scarymommy.com