Introducing “License to Mom” – Playground Politics

 


Marie_Curie_Playground Welcome Mamas to our new column called License to Mom. My name is Stella and I
can’t wait to tell you about all the great parenting ideas, techniques, and
skills out there!  You’d probably figure
out some of this stuff out on your own sooner or later, but why reinvent the
wheel?  Come along with me to the ongoing
reflection, assessment, and decision making that goes into being the type of
parent most of us would like to be, and most of our kids would like to have.
(Although, don’t worry – I’m sure they’ll still find something terribly
embarrassing or annoying about you!)

Playground Politics

The
push car sat there, in its pink glory, alone, just begging to be ridden.  She meandered over and I started to feel my
pulse racing.  I looked around for any
parent or child running over to re-claim their toy, I try to cajole D over to
the swings and offer her a cookie, but she is determined to ride that car.  The end of this particular incident is a mom
running at us (still in the playground – we had not carjacked the toy),
screaming that this was “her car” and even after I removed my child and we went
our separate ways, I could hear her going on and on with phrases like “Can you
believe some people?” and “Who does that?”

 

That
black and white official Parks Rules sign covers a great deal, but when I
checked what it had to say about sharing toys, it was not that helpful.  Today I thought we’d try to tackle those
playground politics, and find some mutual agreement on how to share our
fantastic Queens playgrounds together.

 

Toys
& gear at the playground:
  Our
daughter’s preschool has a rule about toys: If you don’t want to share a
particular toy, don’t bring it to school. 
Mamas, this is sage advice. If you must bring the bicycle and it can’t
be shared, a bike lock or a sign could really help.  When you want the item back, a straightforward
request is a good way to go. 

 

If
your child is using the toy, explain before the child even touches that toy
that it is not his, that the child who owns this bike will be back later, and
we’re only borrowing it.  You might be
thinking your child is too young to understand that, but if you do it every
single time, she will soon learn to anticipate that someone will reclaim this
toy, avoiding an emotional fuss every time (plus, she’ll learn the word
“borrow”!).

 

Big
kids vs. Little kids:

Amongst my Mama circle (mostly moms to kids under 4), we find the 7 to 9 year
old set to be the biggest challenge.  At
6 and under, kids will easily respond to simple requests like “Would you mind
letting the little girl get around you before you swing upside down on that
ladder?”  At 9 and above, they don’t even
need to be asked – they have a better built-in awareness system.  The 7 to 9’s, however, through no fault of
anything outside of their perfectly normal developmental stage, tend to have
blinders when it comes to younger kids. 
And, generally speaking, can also be less responsive to us grown ups
(harumph!).  A frustrating age for their
parents as well, no doubt, but I do think we can all agree on a few things: The
parents of these kids are not neglectful, bad, or otherwise doing anything they
should be judged for.  These children are
not hooligans, monsters, or wild beasts. 
They are just being kids and one day this will be your kid.

 

And
when that is your kid, it’s always great to up the “social skills” conversation.  Around the age of 6 or so, try something like
“Son, you’re one of the big kids at the playground now, so that means I don’t
have to stay right by you like I did when you were little, but it also means
you have to watch out for the littler kids. 
That’s one of the responsibilities of being a big kid”.  Many people assume that kids shrug this type
of talk off, but time and time again parenting experts and the literature have
shown us that the more we provide guidance, explain things in a clear way, and
trust kids to make good decisions, the more they are able to do what’s expected
of them, and make us proud in the process. 
Also, though we sympathize (and those of us with little ones are
envious), it’s not quite time to
fully remove yourself from playground supervision – your kids (and other
parents) would still benefit from a very occasional check in and a little
redirection here and there.

 

Lastly,
if your little one keeps insisting on going over to the big kids section of the
playground, it’s not reasonable to expect those big kids not to act as they do
– the playground is their outlet, too. 
Your child is actually the interloper in this case, and you have to make
the decision that they get knocked over (and maybe learn to fend for
themselves) or not. 

 

Other
parents:
  There is no reason to believe that any other
parent on the playground is out to steal our stuff, get her baby on the slide
before your baby, or is secretly coaching her child to hit or bump into or
throw things at your child.  Let’s agree that
our first reaction need not be anger, animosity, or hard glares.  Let’s instead agree that if my child hits
your child; I will intervene, I will have my child apologize to your child, and
we will do our best to see if perhaps we can’t find a solution (let’s take
turns on the slide!). 

 

And
finally, though our city lives make us tough and defended (great when riding
the subway), let’s see if we can’t soften up a little at the playground.  We don’t need to speak the same language, be
the same race or culture, or have the same life values to make eye contact and
share a smile of understanding at the incredible joys and trials that our kids
bring into our lives every single day.


About Stella

When
I was a kid, my parents invested in a set of children’s encyclopedias.  There was a science book, literature, poetry,
history, and several others, but my absolute favorite by far was not even meant
for me; it was the Parent’s Manual.  This
was the fattest of the hardbound books, and covered everything from how to care
for a newborn to how to talk to your teenager about drugs.  I read and re-read every page, memorized
entire paragraphs, and would try, with varying success, to throw my newfound
parenting insight into casual conversation with my mom and dad.  I have a very distinct memory of arguing with
my dad about letting me sleep over at my friend’s house, and yelling “You’re
supposed to listen to me and RESPECT my feelings!!”

 

In
the past 15 years, I have earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology (with a
minor in Theatre), a Master’s Degree in Social Work, and licensing from the
State of New York to practice Clinical Social Work.  I have worked with: infants and toddlers in a
clinical setting (doing standardized testing and running a clinical study on
the effect of praise on a child’s ability to perform a task); teenagers living
in a state-run group home who were either awaiting adoption or reunification
with a family member; kids and teens in psychiatric care at a New York City
hospital; an after school program aimed at engaging kids into spending time off
the streets; a Junior High School where every single student had been removed
from mainstream public schools, usually due to acts of violence or drug use;
and finally, adoptive parents who are challenged to explore their motivation,
ability, and resources to not only become parents, but tackle issues of culture
and race, talking to kids about abandonment and loss, and coming to terms with
their own grief that may have led them to adoption.  I have been reading and utilizing the advice
of many researchers and clinicians covering the topic of child development and
child rearing long before I became a parent.

 

On
that point, I wouldn’t say that my daughter is my guinea pig, exactly, but
let’s just say that I’ve found many points of intersection between behavioral
modification therapy practices for emotionally troubled teens and managing a
hot-headed 2 year old.  Taking on the
full day-to-day responsibilities for12 teens living in a group home really
helps one to think about time management in a useful way.  And having the privilege of learning the
kids’ stories, when they chose to share them, was a lesson in how much environment
and parenting impacts our ability to live life. Adoptive families and their
children have shown me the difficulties and breathtaking successes of
parenting, and have only helped to solidify my understanding of what children
experience, how they learn, and how making the assumption that kids “don’t get
it”, are “too young to understand”, or “can’t possibly remember this” is a huge
misconception about a child’s abilities.


My
belief, both personally and professionally, is that thoughtful parenting is the
key to enjoying a respectful, compatible, and communicative family life. It’s
not always the easiest way to go, but it’s also not the hardest.  After all, setting up loving and appropriate
boundaries in a great deal easier with a 3 year old than it is a 13 year
old.