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Column Playground etiquette and other mysteries

I admit it – I don’t like playgrounds with all their dangers and unwritten rules. And I’m not the only one, writes Andrea Mara.

“I HATE THE playground” said the woman as she sat back down on the low wall. “Me too” I replied, shaking my head as I plucked a squirming toddler off the top of the slide.

The very nice woman had just leaped up to grab my toddler, who had decided that it was perfectly safe to balance at the top of a slide designed for four-year-olds.

I was very close by, but unfortunately of no use as I was at the top of the nearby climbing frame, rescuing my four-year-old who had reached the highest point but couldn’t get down.

And I’ve no excuse – we were in what is possibly the smallest playground in Dublin – there’s only a slide, a climbing frame and a pirate ship. The playground is enclosed by a high fence and is no bigger than a garden. There really is no safer, more confined place to go. Yet two of my three kids had managed to get themselves into difficulty simultaneously.

I really don’t like playgrounds. The helpful woman and I exchanged knowing looks and were bonded momentarily by our mutual lack of affection for our surroundings.

I have a feeling we’re not the only ones. I’m just not sure if this is a secret-secret like, say, admitting you don’t always like doing bed-time stories and sometimes wish the chapters were shorter (“but reading is so good for them! And it’s such a lovely bonding time!”). Or is it an open-secret, like not enjoying doing homework?

I’m thinking the latter – today wasn’t the first time I’ve had a hushed, wink-and-nod conversation like this. And it’s not surprising – there’s so much scope for trouble. Here are five things that make playground time challenging for me:

1. Not knowing the unwritten rules of playground etiquette:

A case in point – queuing for the swings; I find this a little stressful.

Are we in the right spot? Does the mother who just arrived on the other side know that we were here first? What will I do if she doesn’t realise and goes to put her kid on the swing? Am I letting my kids down if I say nothing? Am I being over-the-top if I say “sorry we’ve been waiting for our turn”?

Aghhh I really don’t like playground unwritten rules – in fact I wish someone would just write them down.

2. Toddler violence (victim or perp – equally problematic)

More etiquette confusion and grey areas:

What to do when your toddler hits another child for no reason?
How do you react when another child wallops one of yours?
Do you speak to the child or to the parent? Does it depend on the age? Or how scary the parent looks?

I’m not great on the confrontational stuff, never sure what to say to other kids in challenging situations. And really, there’s no way I’m confronting a parent.

So, I just cross my fingers that nobody kicks my children.

3. The weather

It’s Ireland, so it’s often cold and grey and dull at the playground. If it was constantly hot and sunny, I would happily spend all day there, soaking up the rays while the kids play. I am actually a much better parent when it’s sunny.

But sadly that’s not how it works (unless you’re four, in which case, throwing your jacket on the ground and running around in a t-shirt in February is perfectly reasonable)

4. The activities

For parents there’s a great variety of activities to choose from: chasing, catching, wrestling, wrenching, queuing, pushing, holding and rescuing.

Chilling out with a book is not one of the activities.

5. The humiliating attempts to go home

Kids never, ever want to leave when it’s time to go. I have never heard any children say “Ok mum, sure, race you to the car” when they’re told time is up. This is a universal truth of playgrounds.

So, parents beg and plead, trying to coax and wheedle their children into coming home without resorting to outright bribes or threats on front of other parents. At least for the first seven or eight requests to leave, after which, all bets are off.

… And, as all this is going on, it can be a bit lonely – there is nobody to talk to. Unless your toddler tries a swan dive off a slide and you get to bond with his rescuer. Might try that again actually.

Andrea Mara has three small kids, one tall husband and one office job. She writes at OfficeMum.ieabout being a parent, being a mother working outside the home, being a woman in the workplace. She’s just trying to keep her balance. Follow her tweets@office_mum or on Facebook.

Column: Would you correct another person’s child?

Column: Think playdates are all fun and games? Think again.

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