The Park Scene

Just as a day at a theme park proved inspirational (refer to my previous post), frequenting the  playground often leaves me with various reflections on parenting. After all, if you want to see practical parenting, there is no place like park. I find it amazing how kids from various backgrounds, often speaking different languages, play together in one sandbox. But it does not mean there are no issues. There are. There is always someone crying, someone falling, someone throwing sand on other kids’ heads. It can  even be quite entertaining at times. Like a reality show. Yet, many of the less funny incidents could easily be prevented, if the big and little park goers alike followed several simple rules. In the effort of enhancing a park experience for everyone, without depriving our children of valuable life lessons, I compiled a little list of suggestions.

Park Do’s and Don’ts:

1. Bring only the toys that you want to share with other children. Whether it is a bike or a shovel, it is obvious that other children might want to touch it. If you’re not up for it, leave the untouchable treasure at home. One boy chose not to and it became awkward.

One time, as I my toddler was playing at a playground,  he saw a bike with balloons attached to it. Of course he rushed to see the cool vehicle. I somehow noticed that the bike owner wasn’t very sharing-friendly and tried to keep my boy away from the balloons. At some point the biker came to me saying “I don’t want the baby to touch my bike!” Fair enough. Normally I wouldn’t argue. Only that this time, the boy was complaining about my son touching his bicycle while holding my son’s sand toys in his hands. I couldn’t help pointing it out. Seeing his embarrassed face was priceless. 

2. Encourage sharing. Do not force children to share.  Teach them taking turns, trading and playing together. Even my toddler waits in line to the slide patiently if you mention that it’s not his turn yet. Sharing is a good thing and it doesn’t take long for a child to notice positive aspects of being generous. Keep promoting it. Before you know it, they will be doing it without your help. Forcing children to share leaves them disgruntled, confused and feeling inferior and insecure.

3. Teach your child to be accountable for their actions. Do not apologize for your child’s bad behavior, unless they can’t talk yet. Although, even a non-talking toddler can give a hug as a sign of apology.  Do not tolerate a “whatever” attitude. A mean “sorry” is meaningless. Only a sincere “I’m sorry”, followed by a positive action should do.

4. Give children room. Do not watch their every step, do not listen to every sentence they say (and do not question it, correct it or comment on it). Do not intervene in every little conflict. Kids need to learn to sort things out by themselves. It’s a valuable life skill. Your monitoring  cripples them for life and makes you their spokesman for life.

5. Don’t pull out the ‘sensitive kid’ card

The other time at a park, my five-year-old was building a fort. Suddenly, I a little boy next to the fort started crying. I asked the boy’s mom if my son had hurt her child. “Oh, no,” she said. “Your son just didn’t want him to get inside the fort. He is crying because he is very sensitive.” I made sure my son apologized and opened the fort to other children, but I couldn’t believe the mom’s ‘sensitive’  answer to the whole thing. Calling your child sensitive is not going to help him learn how to resolve issues with other kids, is it? 

Another story, from  a water park.

Kids were having fun in the pool. Suddenly one boy swam outside the marked area and a lifeguard yelled at him to go back. The kid started crying. Reportedly his feelings were hurt and he needed an apology to calm down. 

I also know of a sensitive boy has recently yelled angrily at a child to move away from his way down the slide, and when splashed with water by a bunch of scooters riding through puddles, he wanted to “punch them in the faces”.

Sensitivity is great. But here is the news. All children are sensitive. We all are sensitive. But sensitivity can’t be used as an excuse to avoid accountability.

Do remember about children’s sensitive skin, though, and protect it with lots of sunscreen! Something I often forget. Shame on me.

5. And last but not least, let’s try to keep our phones in our purses or pockets. You might think that you’re just making a quick call, a fast check, sending one text. It’s always something important. The truth is it can wait. Often times it’s not that important. And being focused and less distracted when in park with our children is. More important, and more fun!









Where is Everyone?

It was another glorious day in our sunny California. If you are from the east coast and start feeling some resentment, don’t. The rainy season has finally caught up with us.  I know we have badly needed it, but does anyone know when it’s going to stop raining? Anyways, it was nice outside, so I took my boys to the park. At first my sons kicked the ball, then  had some good time on the swing, but it wasn’t long when my five-year old was done playing with his baby brother and  had a “better” idea. “Mommy, let’s play sleepy town!” He exclaimed excitedly. “What’s sleepy town?” I asked lazily. I knew he wanted to play a pretend game (which I ‘m no longer as good as I used to be thirty years ago) and I needed some time to either find an excuse or switch gears.  But now that I showed some interest, even though lukewarm, his just eyes lit up. He explained to me that I was going to fall asleep and then wake up in some unknown, scary place. I would see him, but I wouldn’t know who he was… And as he was going over the details of his intricate script, I was filling my head with wishful thinking. I wished there was a single five year old in the park to play with my son. How come the park  was empty on such a perfect day! Where is everyone? Where are the other kids?

Actually, I knew exactly where they were. Some were at home playing with their siblings or their computers. Others  had afternoon classes. From reading to art and tennis, today’s kids have a lot on their plate. I have nothing against organized activities. I would be a hypocrite if I said otherwise. I also drive my son to  TaeKwonDo practice and Spanish. When a child is ready for an organized activity AND wants to commit to it, organized programs can enhance child’s development in so many different ways. However, the question remains, can an organized  activity substitute a play date with his friends? In my opinion it can’t.

The pretend game, about which my son was so thrilled, is such a powerful learning tool in children’s hands. Or minds, rather. It unlocks their imagination, unfolds their creativity, enhances planning skills and triggers critical thinking. Playing in a group is children’s very first step into working in a team. Have you ever seen how easily kids fit into different roles, when playing together. There is always a leader, there are followers. There is someone with a bright idea, there are executors of the idea. Yes, there are also bullies, but even they  are a valuable part of the mix. They give our children a chance to stand up for themselves or others. What’s better to boost one’s confidence and awaken a hero in our little ones?

Organized classes, on the other hand, however useful and effective in developing cognitive and physical skills, teaching discipline and  following instructions, don’t offer the same advantages.  Children whose time is always planned for them struggle with setting goals and planning their own free time. They are often bored even in the room full of toys, they need attention and supervision in order to focus. They need an animator because that’s what they are used to. Is it really the way it should be?

In other words, fellow parents, today you have a valid excuse, because it is raining.  Or snowing, in most of the country. But as soon as the sky turns blue again, why don’t you bring your children to a local playground. Ask your friend to come along, so you can have someone to chat with. After all it’s cheaper than your children’s classes, and you won’t have to wait long to reap its benefits, besides rosy cheeks and healthy appetite, that is. You will know what I am talking about when you see your children making new friends and playing games too imaginary for us, parents, to understand.