Friday, 28 October 2011

Let your children play

"Get down"
"Get off"
"Come here now"
"You're not allowed to do that"
"If you don't get down we'll go home"

...Why some people bother taking their children to playgrounds I do not know. They certainly don't take them there to play.

A recent example I have come across is…

At a soft play area I frequent with Lucinda, there is a ball pool with an air blowing device. The air blower is situated in the middle of an 18" high padded platform, in the middle of the ball pool. If you press a button it activates the blower so if you then put balls over it they levitate in the air.
This particular three year old boy had climbed onto the platform and was enjoying the air blowing up his trouser legs. When I saw him I thought how fun it looked and how much I'd also like to do that. When his mum saw him she said words to this effect - "Get down. You're not allowed on that". Child didn't get down so she then said "If you don't get down we're going straight home". Child still didn't get down so his dad then said "Two more minutes and then we're going", thinking he was helping but the mum disagreed and then said to him "No, not two more minutes. If he doesn't get down we're going home now". Dad said "Sorry" and wandered off! Mum then went and shouted to child "Come here now". Child then slowly made his way over to his mum who then crouched down in front of him, pointed her finger in his face and gave him a talking to. Lucinda was stood next to them, staring and giving this woman a dirty look while this was happening!

I would have been in disbelief but unfortunately I see similar occurences regularly. My thoughts on the incident are:

1. Why isn't he "allowed" on it? There are no signs to say it's forbidden to climb on the air blower. In my opinion, it is part of the play area. It is padded and it is not too high. It is the perfect opportunity for a young child to develop their climbing skills.

2. He had discovered that if he stood on it, the air blew up his trouser legs and that it was fun. It was a simple science experiment. He was learning. When his mum told him to get down, he was still mid-experiment and not ready to get down!

3. Not only did the mum try to blackmail the child into getting down by threatening him with going home if he didn't, she then didn't carry through her threat anyway because after she had shouted at him she let him go back into the play area and continue playing anyway.

4. The mum could not (or refused to) see things from her child's perspective. Where as I thought it looked fun and imagined how cool it would be to have air blowing up my trouser legs, this woman could only see a child breaking an imaginary rule.

Other recent examples are another young boy being told to get down from the bottom rung of a ladder on a playground climbing frame and a whole family of children being told to sit still and be quiet on a beach! Yes really - everyone else on the beach were also gobsmacked at that incident. And to make it worse, the mum said she was "going for a cigarette until they could behave" and left them in the care of their grandma who then also started shouting at them!

I know we all want our children to be safe but I think being over-cautious only serves to stifle our childrens' imagination, sense of adventure and ultimate ability to learn as much as possible from the world around them.
Play is the work of children. It's how they learn. Of course there will be situations where the child is genuinely putting themselves in danger but more often than not, childrens' adventurous play will result in no more than a couple of scratches and the odd bruise. Scratches and bruises are part of childhood.
If you're worried about them climbing too high and that they might fall, go stand behind them so if they do fall you'll be there to catch them. If they want to climb on something higher than you can reach, go up there with them! Having children is a great excuse to let your hair down and have a good play. Make the most of it. But most of all…

Please let your children play.


  1. Oh my goodness. I have also seen these scenarios, and they remind me of the stories in Unconditional Parenting we're reading in A Living Family online book club. (Seen it? Read the book? This is exactly what he talks about in the chapter for this week!)

    I think it's safe to say that I probably won't be like these mamas and daddies (and other caregivers) I see, but I still have a hard time figuring out what to do and say sometimes. Tonight my daughter painted on the walls with the dot markers. I did ask her if she wanted to see what would happen when she painted on the wall (yes) and asked her what happened (made a mess). Even so, she could hear I was frustrated and told me (when I asked) that she didn't want to tell me she had painted on the walls. She's only 2! It made me think that if my daughter is feeling that way about me, and I don't really even get angry much or punish her, how do these poor children feel that are yelled at for doing almost anything? Ugh. This parenting thing is hard, I'll admit (especially given that some of us are trying to parent differently than we were raised), but I do feel bad for some children who can't seem to take a step without being controlled.

    1. I've noticed that the children who are yelled at and punished for playing become afraid to play properly. A young boy the same age as my daughter has been subjected to time-outs, etc, (for normal age-appropriate behaviour) since before he was two and he is a very wary child. Always looking over his shoulder while he's playing to see if anyone is watching him - and probably going to tell him off. He lacks confidence and rarely smiles. It's sad :(

  2. I once watched a whole playground of parents insist their children could only go up the steps and down the slide on a climbing frame/slide. They had even managed to invent the rule that the children 'weren't allowed' to climb up the outside of the climbing frame to reach the slide! Forget climbing up the slide and going down the steps, that was practically a hanging offence. I thought I was watching The Exact Opposite of what playgrounds are meant to be for, those children having their creativity stifled as they went round and round in a boring loop, just grateful to be allowed to use their bodies a bit I suppose.

    I think these types of parents must feel such enormous pressure to conform socially, the fear of being considered an outsider must be huge for some people.

    Sheila, I sympathise greatly (also love Alfie Kohn). I think it's okay to for a child to hear that you are frustrated (or even angry) because people get that way. I think they need to know why, and still feel secure in their relationship with you. And they gain from learning to handle their own feelings of remorse too. Many adults are still not able to say 'sorry, I shouldn't have done that' because they feel as though their own worth will be destroyed, but our children can learn that to admit to a mistake and show remorse doesn't change their value.

    1. I wish I'd have been at that playground with my daughter that day. She'd have really thrown a spanner in the works! She loves climbing up slides :)

  3. Even better: get in there and play with them sometimes. :-) I've had a lot of fun as an adult that I didn't have as a child because now I don't have parents telling me that I'm "not allowed" to do this or that (unless it's because I'm too big for the playground equipment - and even then it's someone else's parents LOL).

    1. I pretend we're going to the playground for my daughter's benefit but really we're going because I want to go on the swings, lol. Ooh, and this weekend we went on a helter-skelter together. I reeeeeally enjoyed that!