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Lessons From The Playground

learning through play, life lessons, play, playground, park, childhood, children, parenting, parenting from the heart

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Weather-permitting, we spend a lot of our day at the playground. Sibling rivalry seemingly dissipates as soon as my kids’ feet hit the grass. The park becomes a canvas for games of chase, escaping dragons teamed up with big bad wolves, the making of mud pies, the sale of flowers and more. While we have frequented the park since my oldest was able to sit in a swing, it’s only been recently that she has become particularly intent on making friends. My three-year-old girl will almost cascade down the hill towards the play structures where several kids typically are.  She will find those closest to her in stature, get quite close, press her little hand against her chest, lean in closely, announce her name, and promptly ask, “What’s your name?” to whoever is before her. While I’ve sat on the sidelines and watched my young kids play become more elaborate and interactive, I have also had to stop myself at getting too involved more than once.

One evening, as the sun had just begun transforming the sky into a tangerine hue, my daughter met a sweet girl close in age. As the two played so nicely, I focused in on my little guy a bit more. The girls squealed as they took turns riding a ride-on toy the girl had brought. Soon two older boys joined in. Laughter and excitement echoed from wherever they went, so I remained under the impression that all was well. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a faceoff between the girls and boys. Nothing aggressive, just an evident pause in play. Then they were off again. As my husband passed by honking on his way home, I knew it was time for me to corral the kids, go home, and start dinner. As we sat down to our meal that night, my three-year-old disclosed, “The boys at the park were being rude.” I asked what they had said. “They called me and my friend bum-bums,” she shared. Of course, it was just toilet humour – a young child’s attempt at teasing. But, my mother-bear-hackles were certainly standing on end. “That’s not nice! You should have told Mama,” I insisted. Indifferent to my desire to protect her from an insult, she said “I said, ‘That’s bad.'” Then she turned to my husband and smiled, “I had fun at the park!” Admittedly, my blood was still boiling and my instinct was to fight for her, but I couldn’t ignore the fact she was teased for the first time that I know of and she nailed it. She addressed the issue and moved on. In her mind, that was it! It was done.

This week, we were at the park mid-morning. I had just found a bench in the shade to survey my toddlers. My daughter had just made her newest friend. Equipped with Disney Princess toys, the pair of girls climbed up on one of the play structures to seek refuge from the younger kids’ grabby hands. My son saw them, collected his huge box of chalk he had been playing with on the sidewalk, and almost teeter-tottered his way up to them. The girls, unimpressed with their uninvited younger guest, moved on. My son, determined, grabbed his heavy box of chalk and followed. If it weren’t for my mediation, they would have moved away from him a third time. Nevertheless, the girls’ body language indicated their true feelings about their imposed playmate. My little two-year-old sat, wide-eyed, not sure if he should be sad they didn’t want to play with him or happy that they hadn’t moved away. Then, a boy of about ten approached me, “Excuse me?” he asked, motioning to the girls, “If they don’t want to play with him, would it be okay if I did?” My heart melted and my eyes welled with tears. “Of course,” I exclaimed. My son brought his big box of chalk to the boy and the two sat in a cloud of coloured dust for nearly an hour.

Have you ever sat back on the sidelines of the playground to watch the kids navigate the issues they face themselves?


I’ve never wanted to be a helicopter parent, but there are times are fleeting moments where I want to fight my kids’ battles for them. I want the world to be as kind to them as they are to it. In staying by the sidelines just a little longer than my maternal instinct dictates, I have been shown that my children and the children around them are more competent and are more conscientious than I had thought. It seems with the right foundational skills, a bit of guidance, and allowing them the autonomy to navigate through playground politics, kids can figure out a lot on their own.


  1. Great post! I loved reading this!! I never wanted to feel like a helicopter parent, especially since my experience working with elementary school children has exposed me to the overwhelming overprotectiveness some parents manifest. But we are currently on a family vacation (in alaska, by the way!), and learning how to let go when we see our 1-year-old play with a 5-year-old. We are amazed at our son’s ability to “keep up” and communicate with his new pal, but get anxiety when the older boy shows more aggressive tendencies, like shoving. That’s when I suddenly understand how hard it can be to not chime in and dictate all of the play rules. Thank you for giving me peace of mind to know I’m not alone. After reading your post, I feel like my mindset reset for today. 🙂

  2. Wow! I am so impressed at how easily your girl makes friends! Imagining her introducing her to others is the cutest, sweetest thing! My little girl doesn’t talk to anyone. Sometime she’ll latch on to another kid, but usually she and my son play on their own. All kids are different I suppose, but sometimes I wish I could help her makes friends more easily. Love this post!

  3. Z is definitely the same way as your daughter… a different friend every time we go somewhere. I have seen kids not be very kind to her, or tease her, and I try to stay out of it. Then if she wants to talk about it I make sure that she knows that me and her dad will always be there to comfort her, but that people will not always be nice. She seems to be pretty good at just letting it fall off her back though. 🙂
    I think your feelings are totally normal though and not helicopter-y at all, just caring. 🙂 Great post!

  4. It is hard not to be over protective of our kids but it seems like your kids are doing a great job of taking care of themselves. You must be doing a lot of things right!

  5. I agree that it is hard not to want to jump in and fight their battles….but often times they figure it out on their own. Love how that boy wanted to play with your youngest….that is so sweet. Loved all the description in this….I felt like I was right there with you.

  6. My daughter suprises me all the time with the things she knows! She barley speaks so I tend to baby her because of that and will jump in at the playground and other places when I really should just let her be a kid. She proves to me everyday that just because she doesn’t really talk she does indeed know things. Like just this weekend knowing how to use Netflix using the remote. She had an ear infection so I had to keep her inside and it just blew me away that a 3 year old knows how to use the tv lol… My mom and grandmother can’t even do that most days lol.

  7. I love to watch kids interact at the park. My son is much more timid than your daughter. He tends to try to look like he is having fun until someone joins in with him. My daughter just walks right up to kids old or young and yells “HI” she’s 2 and has a more outgoing personality. To each their own. I try to stay out of it for the most part also… It’s good for them to stick up for themselves. You won’t always be there.

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