Childrearing

Horse Around, Hover or Text? What Your Playground Style Says About You

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We moved about six months ago into house where I can almost literally throw a rock into the neighborhood playground. There are a lot of families in the area, and because it’s so convenient my two young kids are getting more playground time than they ever have before, much to their delight.

However, all the time I’m spending at the playground as of late has made me weirdly keyed in to the the behavior of other parents at the playground. Generally speaking, parental behavior tends to fall into three different categories — we’ll call them horsing around, hovering and texting.

The horse around parent: Some parents are really engaged with their kids at the playground, in the best way possible — they’re acting like kids themselves. They’re chasing the kids around, hoping up on the slide platforms, pushing the swings, showing them how to use the monkey bars etc. It never fails to amaze me how much joy this brings out in the children. Not only are these parents paying attention to their own kids, they’re also facilitating play between kids and otherwise helping the kids of other parents. By and large, kids really, really enjoy these parents.

The hover parents: Some parents are just natural worriers, and they follow their kids around the playground without really engaging them. They’re simply making sure that their kids are staying safe and out of trouble. In some cases, particularly with kids two and younger, the parents are there but not engaging not because they don’t want to, but because running around the playground and figuring out how to climb things is sort of a necessary part of the discovery/learning process when you’re that young. But that’s rare. There are a lot of hover parents who should just take the extra step of facilitating play and joining in with their kids.

The texters: Look, we’ve all been there. I work from home and my schedule is irregular, so I confess I’ve been that parent before, pecking away on the iPhone sitting on a bench, while my child goes down the slide again and again. No, I haven’t just been that parent “before.” I’m pretty much this parent all the time. And sure, it’s not ideal. You’re neither paying attention or helping your kids have fun. I suppose taking your kids to the playground is better than not taking your kids to the playground, but sometimes I have a tinge of guilt for not taking better advantage of the time. On the other hand, our parents didn’t even bother accompanying us to the playground, so what’s the harm? I figure that this just enables everyone to be happy (until such time my children are old enough to venture to the playground on their own).

Well, I hope this crude taxonomy is helpful. Since I’ve started thinking about it and observing other parents behavior at the playground, it’s made me much more mindful of how engaged I am in my children’s play. The funny thing is that when I’m in the moment, running around with my children at the playground having fun, I find the play time as therapeutic as my kids do.