Playground Etiquette

By Sarah Swymer of and

The New York City Parks Department posts a set of rules and regulations outside of each playground. The rules include “footwear must be worn at all times” and “no adults without the accompaniment of a child,” etc. These rules are thorough and useful and even if your little one can’t read you can point to the sign and reinforce your ruling that scooters are in fact not allowed in the playground (or perhaps use your own imagination to enforce your law). However, sometimes I wish they would post a set of rules pertaining to playground etiquette. As a professional Parkhopper, who’s spent countless hours in the playground and conversed with what seems like hundreds of moms/nannies, I’ve decided to finally compile a short list of playground etiquette rules.

1. Watch Your Kids

This first rule seems like a no-brainer, but there are plenty of people who think playgrounds are a place to catch up on their latest Kindle purchase. It’s extremely frustrating when your kid asks me to help them reach the monkey bars while you check your e-mail. Or even worse, when your kid pushes my kid off the teeter-totter and I’m forced to reprimand him (but that’s a whole different topic for another article). If your child is under two you should watch them like they watch the television (zombies!). Children under four require slightly less attention but still need constant supervision. And even once they’ve reached “big kid” status they still should always be on your radar. The playground, although a great entertainment, is not a free babysitter. Watch your kids. Watch your kids. Watch your kids. I really can’t say this enough.

2. Take Turns

There are some limited pieces of playground equipment like the swings or the monkey bars, and there are many kids who won’t be happy unless they’re glued to their chosen piece (i.e. the swings) of the playground. When the playground gets busy this can create quite the problem. As the adult it is your job to regulate your child’s “turn,” that is to say how long they are on any given piece of equipment. For the monkey bars, one “attempt” qualifies as a turn, after that your child should move to the back of the line. On the slide, make sure your child doesn’t turn around and try to climb up. Although this behavior is fine on a slow day, when there are children waiting at the top of the slide this can be dangerous (aside from just plain rude). For the swings, big kids should use their best judgment but sometimes they need a little reminder of all the other waiting children.

The biggest grievance revolves around the baby swings. One mother told me how she patiently waited for a turn as a nanny lackadaisically pushed a half-asleep baby, while checking her Facebook with her free hand. After awhile the mother asked for a turn and the nanny asked the less-than-two year old in the swing, “What do you think? Are you ready to come out?” The baby shook his head because let’s be honest, what baby doesn’t like the soft rock of the swings? The nanny then shrugged and said sorry. The moral of the story is you, as the adult, should be both aware and in charge of your child’s turns. It’s courtesy, it’s proper etiquette.

3. Don’t Share Food

Once snack time arrives, you’ll notice a lot of hungry eyes around your bag of Pirate Booty. It’s always tempting to offer whatever you have, but remember, many kids come equipped with food allergies. That being said, of course you can always ask the child’s caregiver, but just be sure get permission first. And don’t give my kid any snacks without asking, especially because it might ruin her dinner!

4. Leave space

This last “rule” is short and simple: Leave space on the benches. I know you have bags and strollers and plastic buckets because I do too and I also need a place to put them. Having a spot on the bench is like finding fertile land in the middle of a desert; it’s the gift that keeps on giving. A space on the bench can be a snack spot, base, changing table, and countless other things all rolled into one. As a master of the “stuff explosion,” I can tell you first hand how easy it is to take up more than one bench. But please, try and leave some room for everyone.

Playgrounds are not just fantasylands for children — they are hangouts for the adults watching over that same magic world. The playground should be a pleasant experience for everyone, because let’s face it, we’re all there for the same reason: to run Sammy/Sofia around enough that they fall asleep before Mad Men starts.


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