Solving Playground Problems for Young Children
9m read

Solving Playground Problems for Young Children

Going to the playground is a great way for children to learn the concept of socialization. Kids learn best from one another, and playgrounds can be a safe space to practice interacting with one another.

Going to the playground is a great way for children to learn the concept of socialization. Playgrounds are the perfect spot to practice following rules, taking turns, conflict resolution, physical skills, expressing feelings, and trying to solve problems.

happy girl sliding in playground

Kids learn best from one another, and playgrounds can be a safe space to practice interacting with one another. Your children will practice socialization both at school during recess and outside of school at the playground. If your child is younger than school-aged, going to the park is the ideal place to expose them to other children their age.

Issue #1: The child wants the parent at all times

Many parents, especially with young children, will hover and follow them around the whole playground, making sure they are being friendly, having fun, and using the playground equipment properly. This type of "helicopter" parenting doesn't allow a child to learn conflict resolution or problem-solving. 

happy mother holding her son

In addition, hovering around your child can teach them the false message that they need the parent by their side at all times. Your kids might become cautious to try new things or shy when it comes to meeting new people. Kids should be able to confidently and freely embrace new experiences without the constant aid of a nearby parent.

Solution: Be home base.

As much as possible, parents should seek to be a secure "base" that their children can come to when they need help. When you arrive at the playground, find a spot to sit and observe your little one from a distance. This concept can teach your kids that they are safe to explore within eyesight of you, their attachment figure. Give kids a chance to manage behavior and problem solve on their own before intervening.

Issue #2: There are out-of-control kids around your child

As you become a secure base to which your children can come to, pay watchful attention to the other children around them. Young children are very sensitive to the energy and feelings of those around them. Perhaps there is another child who is playing very roughly, is taunting the other children, is out of control, or is making a huge mess. If this kid approaches your kid, think about what words you might use to address the situation without being too judgmental of their behavior.

Solution: Step in when necessary.

Think to yourself, "If my little one gets too close to that other child, he might get hurt or the situation might turn unsafe in a way that I need to slowly move closer." Do not give the other child a chance to hurt your kids - be close enough that you can step in right away when you sense that something is amiss. 

Happy kids playing on slide

Address all children in an age-appropriate manner, without being accusatory. Be sensitive to your child's feelings as well as the emotional state of the other children. Children can learn to play together cooperatively and calmly, but it. takes patience and a lot of practice!

Issue #3: The child hasn't used or mastered playground equipment

If your little one doesn't have a lot of experience at the playground, chances are, it will be difficult for her to use the playground equipment right away. Sometimes there is new equipment that your child hasn't yet mastered, or sometimes you'll notice your child tends to use the playground equipment in a dangerous manner. Kids learn through experience, so encourage them to try new things without telling them too many times to "be careful."

Solution: Do the bare minimum.

If you can handle it, give the minimum amount of help that your children need. Instead, talk through the situation with your little one, narrating what needs to be done and what to be cautious of. 

Jumping from ropes on playground

Slowly walk closer to your child and explain how to use that part of the playground. It might be a challenging task for them, but you can lead by example and support your child's learning through offering simple solutions to their issues. Talking them through difficult tasks is teaching them how to have the courage to do things on their own.

Issue #4: The child is mean to others or is bullied

Sometimes kids on the playground are mean to one another, through words or physical aggression. With plenty of room to explore and roam, kids can sometimes find themselves face to face with a bully. In these instances, children might search for their parents to intervene right away. 

child being bullied in playground

However, children can learn a lot from using strategies to deal with rude or cruel behavior. Children's emotions are highly dependent on the energy of those around them, so parents and teachers can model at home and at school how to deal with bullying. In any group setting, it is to be expected that some conflict will arise, so it is helpful for children to become equipped with simple strategies to deal difficult people.

Solution: Model-friendly behavior.

Parents and caregivers, as well as your child's teacher or other school staff, should model appropriate group behavior. Children need help managing their big emotions and learning how to act kind towards one another when conflict arises. Teach children how to problem solve by talking through difficult situations and teaching them how to have fun without risking hurting anyone's feelings.

Issue #5: The child is shy or slow to warm up to other kids

Sometimes kids get nervous when they are placed in an unfamiliar environment. Even if they use playground equipment regularly at school and interact with other students in the classroom, it can still be daunting to arrive at a busy playground where they don't know anyone yet. 

shy boy with his father

You might notice that your little one seems shy or hesitant to play, or begs to leave the playground just as soon as you've arrived. Parents and caregivers can create a sense of safety and security for their children if they become nervous in this new space.

Solution: Feel out the environment first.

When you arrive at the playground, don't just find a bench and start scrolling through your phone, expecting your child to run off and play. If your little one is slow to warm up, approach the situation together.

Encourage your little one to slowly try some of the playground equipment. Pick a few parts of the playground that are challenging and some that are easy. Allow your little one to feel out the space before forcing them to participate in any social activities with other children.

Practice social skills with your child by engaging in lots of imaginary play at home. Model social situations for your child at home, and they'll likely feeling more comfortable when they actually go to a playground.

Issue #6: The child is too bossy or commanding

Many parents struggle with projection. We see our kids as too demanding, too bossy, or too much of a leader. In reality, these qualities aren't necessarily negative and can actually lead to a variety of helpful skills such as problem-solving, managing relationships, and being creative.

Young children might lack the language and ability to step into a leadership role in a way that other kids are receptive too. Sometimes, one child's ideas tend to overshadow all the others, and other kids get frustrated that they cannot suggest their own games or activities. 

children playing in playground

Caregivers can teach their little ones empathy and how to act like a leader without hurting anyone's feelings, and how to be inclusive of others. Children can learn to come up with their own solutions to group conflict without too much emotional turmoil.

Solution: Don't label your children.

Many people struggle with projecting their own feelings onto their children, when in reality, challenging behaviors can lead to powerful teaching moments. If you feel the guilt and worry creep in when your child struggles to make friends on the playground, take that as a sign that you're projecting your own feelings onto the situation.

Explain to your child simple social skills such as taking turns, playing a variety of games, how their words make others feel, and how to give others enough room to feel empowered, too.

Issue #7: The child is too physical or wants to hug everyone

Some kids are too physical with other children and don't understand the feelings of others. Children might be quick to hug other kids, want to hold hands, or play games that push the physical boundaries of others. 

best friends hugging

Solution: Encourage your child to express themselves in other ways.

If your little one wants to constantly be in other children's personal space, lead by example and talk to them about how to come up with ideas of how to enjoy the company of others without violating their personal comfort level.

Break the habit of hugging everyone by giving your child examples of what she could do in a situation in which she wants to be close to another kid on the playground. Ideas such as high fiving, clapping, shaking hands, or waving can be a way for your little one to bond with other kids, without being too physical. Teach your child about personal space and how to empathize with the comfort level of those around her.

Issue #8: The child says "no" to playing with everyone

It can be frustrating for caregivers to watch their little one say "no" to everyone that wants to play with them. The next time you see your child wanting to play on their own, try to sympathize with their feelings and understand why they might be hesitant to join in play with others.

Support your child and lead by example. Independent play is valuable, even in group settings. In the classroom, on the playground, and at home, your little one will learn to balance individuality and group mentality. If your child wants to play by herself, this doesn't always lead to problems. Your little one might enjoy the safety and security of her own company more than joining in a game with other kids.

Solution: Support your child. 

Caregivers can support their little ones by giving them ideas on how to balance group activities and independent play. If your child seems lonely, help her search for ways to join in interactions with others. Give her ideas for a game to play with other kids. Talk to her about how fun it can be to interact with other kids her age, while also supporting her need for space. 

lonely child in a playground

Caregivers can support their little ones by giving them ideas on how to balance group activities and independent play. If your child seems lonely, help her search for ways to join in interactions with others. Give her ideas for a game to play with other kids. Talk to her about how fun it can be to interact with other kids her age, while also supporting her need for space.

Next time you're at the playground, observe your child and gauge her emotional state. Does she seem socially exhausted, or is she ready and willing to play with others? Children can have fun both on their own and with other kids, so encourage your child in an appropriate manner and support her feelings if she wants to be on her own.

Create happy memories by being a valuable support for your little one

Going to the playground can be a fun way to spend free time. Help your little one enjoy time with other children while giving them the freedom to solve their own problems while remaining close by to offer support when needed! 

Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez

I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.

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