Playgrounds Teach More than just Play
Playgrounds Teach More than just Play
My two daughters had two friends spend the night on Friday. The following morning I had the responsibility of watching all 4 girls. So I did what any Dad would do in my situation loaded them up and took them to a playground and cut them loose. As I watched them play another family entered the playground. They had two boys who seemed to be a year or two older than the three 8 year olds in our group. Very quickly it was decided they would all play a game of tag.
As they began to run around the equipment, it became apparent that the two boys were choosing to not follow the rules that were listed at the playground. Primarily they would climb on top of the slides and jump over rails instead of using the stairs.
This gave them a decided advantage over the girls who generally are rule followers.
The girls very quickly became aware of the actions of the boys since they couldn’t go but for a few seconds without being tagged.
They protested and told the boys that climbing on the slides and jumping rails was not fair and was against the rules.
One of the boys got angry and yelled “ you are all idiots” right in their faces.
The girls seemed a little taken back by this and unsure of how to proceed. It seemed like a good time to take a break and eat lunch, so I called them to the table to eat.
While the girls were eating I asked them how the game of tag was going. They didn’t respond at first but then said “it’s okay.”
I didn’t tell him that I had seen the boy yell at them but instead I asked “is everyone being nice.” They replied that one of the boys had yelled at them and called them idiots.
** I do not believe in swooping in an getting involved in every conflict kids have, however, I do think it is important to use those conflicts as teaching points to empower them to handle conflict for the rest of their lives**
I asked the girls if they thought the boy should be able to yell at them and calm them names and they all answered with a “NO!”
After the girls were done eating, I asked them if they wanted to play some more before leaving. They all emphatically answered, “yes!!” As they went back to the playground they began to play a new game that they had talked about while eating lunch. All the girls knew the rules of the game and how to play. The boy who had yelled at them tried to figure out the game but could not. He tried yelling at the girls to get them to stop but they kept playing and ignored him since they had decided that he did not play nicely. Finally, this same boy walked over to his table and sat by his brother not knowing what else to do.
I called my daughter over and asked if it was okay if the boy played with them as long as he was nice. Without hesitation she responded “sure.” I suggested that all the girls approach the boys and explain the rules to them. They explained to the boys that they were welcome to play as long as they didn’t call them names and played nicely.
The boys joined the group and their attitudes and actions were completely different. They treated the girls respectfully and followed the rules of the game.
These four girls had been able to do what the boys mother was unwilling or unable to do. They corrected their behavior and got them voluntarily play by the rules of the group which included treating other kids kindly.
During the car ride home, I took the opportunity to talk with the girls about what happened on the playground. We talked about not letting other people treat you badly or with disrespect. We talked about how to handle these situations. I made sure the girls understood that by st kind together as a group the were able to not only stand up to the boy but change his behavior. We talked about other options the girls had or what they could have done if they weren’t with a group.
Our children often play with peers but this often happens at school when we are not present. Taking these opportunities to provide some guidance but ultimately letting our children handle conflict is critical to them having these skills as they become older. These skills are not important just for their safety but also in life as they will face conflict their entire lives. There is a time to step in and act as a parent and if things headed towards becoming physical then I definitely would have interjected myself.
However I think it is important to allow these moments to happen where you can observe but ultimately allow children to navigate conflict and advise them on the best course of action. These girls not only had a good time at the playground but they also learned the power of the group and that they do not have to tolerate certain actions from other people.