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Playground Philosophy - Elizabeth Unexplained
Lots of data but no answers
Playground Philosophy
Margaret and I spend a lot of time at the playground on the weekends. There’s a climbing structure there, and letting her go up and down the shallow steps, the not at all shallow step, and down the slides is a big improvement over trying to keep her from climbing the bookcases, balancing precariously on the arm of the sofa and going up and down the stairs unaided. To my mind the more time she spends at the playground, the happier she’ll be to do safe things like read books and play with blocks when we get home. Better yet, maybe she’ll even nap.

Invariably Margaret is the youngest child on the play structure, often by a good half year or more. I’ve been letting her play there since about nine or ten months old. Generally the other babies her age just get to go on the swings and play in the sand. Perhaps they are not such aggressive climbers as Margaret is and thus their parents don’t feel the need to let them get it out of their systems some place that isn’t the end table with the lamp on it. I get the distinct impression that the parents of some of the older kids who are sharing the play structure with Margaret think that I am nuts. Not all of them, but certainly the end of the spectrum that helicopters over their own kids has cast a bit more than a disapproving eye in my direction.

I’m pretty lucky in that there hasn’t been too much friction with the more protective parents, just a little implied criticism which I happily ignore. I in turn worry about some of the two year olds on the play structure, in particular the one girl I saw a couple of months ago whose father was practically on top of her, talking in a constant litany of ‘no, don’t, you can’t’. His daughter will no doubt be spared the bumps and bruises that Margaret collects (though actually, our safety record at the playground is pretty good), but I wonder how it will affect her confidence and such. Of course I have saved my personal disapproval of his style for this post, as even hinting at it on the playground would be unproductive. I certainly know he didn’t care for my less protective approach, as he lunged at least once to cover a ladder that Margaret was getting close to, and shot me a disapproving glance in the process. (I also refrained from pointing out that I can move twice as fast as a man who is half beer gut.)

I don’t like saying no to Margaret. I don’t do it unless she’s doing something naughty, like grabbing glasses or pulling on the tablecloth. Unless she is hurting some other kid at the playground, I don’t think I should be saying no there. The point of the playground is to play, and playing is about exploring and trying things out. To my mind, there should be some risk-taking happening at the playground, controlled, minor risk taking, where the worst likely consequences are a scrape or a mouth full of sand. I have seventeen years before I pack Margaret off and send her to college, I want her to learn to judge potential risks now when it involves playground equipment and not latter when it involves potentially more dangerous things. I want her to grow up with a confidence in her physical abilities because I feel that my own confidence has been one of my greatest assets. And of course I want her to have fun and exhaust herself, not me, so that I can do a better job of parenting her once we get back home.
4 comments or Leave a comment
enugent From: enugent Date: July 20th, 2009 11:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
In theory I'm with you 100% - in practice I have a hard time not hovering. I periodically repeat to myself a phrase from Playful Parenting (a book I highly recommend, by the way) - "Bones heal faster than timidity and fearfulness."

As Margaret gets older, you may also enjoy Free Range Kids.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: July 21st, 2009 05:22 am (UTC) (Link)
I would just note that Elizabeth doesn't actually get all that far away from Margaret - and she knows Margaret's habits well enough to be there to block Margaret from diving off the few places where she could fall more than a yard, even when she doesn't look like she's close enough.

I tend to hover closer, perhaps partly because I don't view timidity as much of a flaw, but mostly because I'm not as good at figuring out which direction Margaret will go in.

Margaret is usually quite careful, though. Well, except when she plays the "leap into daddy because I know he'll catch me" game.
remcat From: remcat Date: July 21st, 2009 03:27 am (UTC) (Link)
This is almost exactly my experience with Seth -- he was a competent and enthusiastic monkey from almost day one. (Ex: he climbed over the baby gates to go up and down the stairs, before he was walking ... at 10-ish months old.) I got a lot of side-long glances, and spent a lot of time disapproving of hovercraft parenting.

I wasn't much bothered by the disapproving looks, and I have grown more patient with the hovercraftmoms -- in large part because I spent time with friends whose children were very poor judges of balance and danger, and did not seem to learn from physical experience. (One would literally fall off the same thing over and over --ouch!)
countertorque From: countertorque Date: July 21st, 2009 06:23 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm mostly with you. But, my kid had 7 stitches before he was 2, so what do I know?
4 comments or Leave a comment