Parenting is kind of abstract — there are all sorts of guidebooks on how to do this parenting thing right, but you really know that the bulk of parenthood is winging it and applying what you learn as you go along.
Playground rules work the same way. You have what the posted safety and rules signs say and etiquette to work with, but one kid’s imagination differs from another’s. How you encourage your child to play freely and safely varies from other parents — as does how you address issues that make you question how your kid’s cognitive processing is going.
For example, putting that thing from the sandbox in their mouth and chasing some other clearly terrified kid with it. Child, why? Kids will be kids, but here are a few tips on encouraging them to play safely and creatively while following common playground rules.
1. Let Your Kid Get Dirty
So, what if your kid gets dirty on the playground. Don’t sweat it.
In fact, go on a mission to stomp in puddles in rain gear and make mud pies. Here’s a chance to explain that climbing high up on the jungle gym while it rains is dangerous, but it’s still cool to go outside and puddle stomp.
Kids rarely get dirty these days, and it’s good for them. It’s good for you as a parent, too. Dirt washes off.
2. Stop Hovering
Your kid has playground smarts you never imagined, so let your child try their social skills out on their own. Let them wing it and learn from their experiences.
Social snafus and physical boo-boos are going to happen whether you’re hovering or not. Your kid’s self-reliant. Allow them to realize that fact for themselves.
3. Promote Positive Behavior
Playground rules look like a list of “don’ts” which little developing mind turn into a list of “Oh, heck yes, I’m so doing that.” Integrate common playground rules with your own family rules while playing to show your child why those rules matter inside and outside the sandbox.
Create regulations that promote positive behavior to help your child grow developmentally and socially. For example, “take turns” means sharing time and fun on the playground equipment, and when conflict arises, they may disagree about what taking turns means for each of them. Your child will learn boundaries, respect and how to negotiate with someone to maintain a positive and reciprocal friendship. They also learn about collaboration and communication.
4. Encourage Pretend Play
The same old equipment gets boring after a while, but imagination has the power to change everything. A jungle gym becomes an igloo or castle to be stormed. A sandbox becomes the beach.
Encouraging pretend play will help your child develop their understanding of others, creative thinking, and social competence. Your child will learn to consider other perspectives and solutions. Lessons linked with these skills are easily incorporated into pretend play with materials, themes and suggested “story” structure — What if the jungle gym was an igloo, and you must survive together with the polar bears? Only suggest if they ask.
5. Play with Your Kid
Be a great example for your child while having fun. Don’t be the parent who sits on the sidelines all the time. While allowing your kid to play with her peers matters, the time you spend playing with your child outside is also important.
Bring a soccer ball or push your kid on the swings. Stretch your legs and climb the jungle gym. You teach your kid the importance of exercise, family time and following the rules even as an adult. You also get to be a little wilder outdoors and show them that “See, the ball really belongs outside for this reason — plus. it’s more fun, kiddo.”
Set clear and age-appropriate rules while honoring the rules of the playground. Etiquette is a little more flexible, but it’s about finding a middle ground — which often means intermixing safety and social rules, such as “Always wait your turn.”
As your child gets older, walking the line between following the rules and expressing one’s self creatively gets even more confusing. The rules of the playground apply to real life, too, so let your child find themselves early on while respecting others and having fun.