Monday, October 3, 2011

The Playground Parent-Type Assessment

Yesterday we took advantage of the beautiful weather we had here and went to a park for a picnic. We ended up at Elm Creek Park Reserve just north of Maple Grove. We had been there this summer for swimming, but it was always too hot to play on all the metal of the new playground that was installed. So we headed up so the boys could play. Like many of the Three Rivers Park District playgrounds around us, this one was well done. It is the kind of playground you wish was around when you were a kid. Plenty to climb on and explore.

I've decided that playgrounds are a great place to assess what type of parent you are. I see many parents who hover over their children, warning them not to climb too high or slide too fast. If this is you, loosen up. You're way too protective. I understand the desire to protect your kids. And you should. But only from the real dangers out there. Playgrounds, while they may give their share of cuts and bruises and scrapes to kids, are not a real danger. More than protecting, our job as a parent is to prepare our kids for growing up and being on their own. So instead of warning them, encourage them. Let them try...and fail if need be. A bonk to the shin or a scraped hand will heal. You can teach them to not walk in front of a swing, but you don't need to hold their hand the whole time.

I see some parents who take their kids to the playground and ignore them. They sit on a bench and read a book or talk with a friend. Now, I understand the need for adult time if you're a stay-at-home parent. But if the trip to the park is your main time with your child(ren) that day, then pay attention to them. You may be the parent whose child had no boundaries because you feel guilty giving them any. They may be the playground bully--pushing kids, not waiting their turn in line, throwing sand, etc.--because they long for boundaries and for you to give them attention.

And you may be the parent who is right their with your child, encouraging them as they try something difficult that they haven't done before. Maybe you're right there on the play structure playing with your kids, having fun (and getting some exercise, too). Maybe you're sitting on a bench doing something relaxing after a hard day of work, but you're paying attention to where your kids are and what they're doing, responding to them with loving words. Children need a mix of boundaries and freedom, soft love and hard love (discipline). They also need attention from their parents; quality and quantity time is important.

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