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Entertaining kids can be tough. Here's how to survive the playcentre

The holidays with the kids can be tough. Claire Micks has some advice about navigating the play centre.

Claire Micks

IT RAINS A lot in Ireland. And kids are not so easy to entertain in the rain. Particularly the not-so-hardy, ‘I’m-cold-and-want-to go-home-now, Mummy’ variety, such as my own.

Take the Christmas holidays for example. When it rained, near permanently, for two weeks solid.

And entertaining two young kids in your own home, already high from the seasonal excesses of sugar and telly, became nigh on impossible. So, in the absence of being able to venture into the great outdoors, we instead had little choice but to brave the ‘great indoors’ (which believe you me, can be a far wilder, more feral environment).

No one should wander blindly into it without a certain basic level of knowledge around the necessary rules of engagement.

In what is effectively a miniature war zone. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

Number One. First things first, if you’re going to be economical with the truth about your kid’s ages at the entrance, make sure they’re not yet old enough to correct you on the subject. Repeatedly. At full volume. Cringe…

Number Two. Don’t be fooled into thinking that any parent present will pay the slightest bit of attention to their own offspring’s behaviour. Signs requiring ‘parental supervision’ are routinely ignored in favour of whatever glossy mags, and coffee, are on offer.

Any parent present, who is even remotely engaged, has little choice but to work off the general assumption that the other Mummies or Daddies will only ever intervene if, and when, Little Johnny’s assaults on his peers have reached Conor McGregor proportions.

Of course, at that point said parent will be truly ‘appalled’ by the ‘sudden’ escalation in their child’s behaviour. But that’s only because they’ve been too busy on their phones for the past half hour to notice he’s been routinely tearing lumps out of all around him.

shutterstock_248896723 Source: Shutterstock/Aliaksei Smalenski

On a recent visit to a particularly boisterous establishment, I was sorely tempted to make a request of the management that, in the absence of anyone actually supervising their own children, they might want to consider re-deploying some of their multiple cafe staff on a much needed peacekeeping mission within the play frame.

And then I remembered my earlier porky at the entrance (see Number One above). And quickly realised that I was in no position to adopt the high moral ground.

Number Three. Gentle interventions with other people’s children are not only acceptable, but often downright necessary ie ‘Please would you mind letting my little girl have a go on the swing once you are finished your 27th?’, followed by a very conscious stare, and cringe inducing parental linger.

Meanwhile, the child in question eyes you up and down with the studied disdain of one who knows you are utterly powerless in their presence.

But such incidents are chicken feed compared to the more difficult ‘manoeuvres’ one can get faced with. For there are few more awkward situations than watching your own child being pushed aside by another, larger child, who wants the trike they happen to be sat upon, and feeling entirely helpless to intervene.

You look around in the general vicinity of ‘the perp’, in the hope that some civic minded parent might fess up, and take charge. And then somehow attempt to console your own kid, and convince them that no, they can’t go off now and knick some other poor creatures trike in revenge.

shutterstock_130378904 Source: Shutterstock/Eternalfeelings

Unfortunately the ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ moral code tends to fall on deaf ears when it comes to your average three year old.

Number Four. Treats upon leaving only, and definitely never upon entering. They’ve enough adrenaline coursing through their veins at the sight of ten feet of slides, ball pools and other revved up kids, without adding sugar to the equation. Even the consumption of an smoothie spells game over.

Number Five. Bring a small handbag that you can lug around with you through those tiny tunnels and corners you will inevitably find yourself navigating. It’s bad enough stressing out about where the disembodied screams of your distressed three year old are coming from, without also worrying that someone might be helping themselves to your wallet at the same time.

Number Six. Not all play centres are created equal. By that I mean that some are genuinely safe places for very little people, and some are just, well, not. To be fair, they often have multiple age appropriate sections (which are enforced with varying degrees of regularity), but wander into such a multi faceted environment, with more than one age bracket to entertain, and you’re bunched.

We happened upon one whilst on holidays with a super safe baby zone, alongside what can only be described as the Liberty Hall of play frames. I’m surprised they weren’t offering Bungee Jumps from the top deck. Grand for the burley six and seven year olds. Not so much the more adventurous toddlers who somehow failed to notice the ‘4 and over only’ signs.

shutterstock_144472489 Source: Shutterstock/bikeriderlondon

Number Seven. Routinely parents aren’t allowed into the frames themselves. But equally routinely this is universally ignored.

Except, of course, when my two-year-old got stuck, paralysed by acrophobia, in ‘the penthouse’, whilst a staff member roared abuse at me for attempting to rescue him.

Some are better than others at their own internal staff supervision, the levels of which tend to range from pretty good monitoring of any over the top ‘rough housing’, along with consistent retrieval of any stranded, semi traumatised children, to those centres where the staff are clearly trained to focus more on selling food and drink to parents, than on the welfare of the occupants.

Which again leads me neatly to my next one.

Number Eight. No food and drink allowed. Except that which is purchased on the premises. I’ve even had water confiscated on occasion, having already shelled out 15 quid on entry.

Interestingly, the one with the fascist approach to parent’s in the frame, routinely ignored all the lunch boxes and tin foil packages in plain view of everyone, but many tend to be a bit more vigilant.

Equally don’t expect anything even vaguely healthy on the menu. Even when I asked for toast, it came with crisps on the side. Dr Eva would have had a conniption.

Number Nine. Be prepared to leave your dignity at the door. And when you eventually leave, to be a more battered, war weary version of your former self. All sense of style and decorum will invariably go out the window, for there is nothing quite like getting yourself wedged between two horizontal rollers on the quest to rescue your two year old, to make you acutely aware of your own advanced age (and girth).

Or having to fess up to your three years ‘accident’ on the slide, because the general over exuberance of the whole situation got the better of his fledging bladder. Yes, that was pretty mortifying alright.

Number Ten. And lastly, park close, in order to minimise the pain of retreat. They will NEVER want to go home, even when they are beetroot from head to foot, with their hair stuck to their heads, and a perma-whine to their voice. And will invariably need to be delicately manhandled out of the place.

Best to minimise the public’s exposure to the hissy fit that will no doubt ensue upon exiting I find, for the benefit of all concerned.

Claire Micks is a writer. Read her columns for TheJournal.ie here.

Read: ‘We could learn a lot from Hugh Grant. If you make a mistake, own up quickly’>

Read: ‘We need to educate children about food that doesn’t come from a packet’>

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