What Kind of Playground Parent Are You?


It took Wes awhile to get to this point on this particular jungle gym. I had to coach him how to rotate once he got to the top and I was REALLY trying to encourage him to STOP ALREADY. YOU ARE FREAKING ME OUT. But he was determined, so I stood under waiting to catch him if he slipped. But he did it. Without so much as a push from me.

Nikki has always been fearless, so with her it’s always been about the coaching or the telling her point-blank: NO. YOU ARE TOO LITTLE. Because – let me tell you – she does NOT have a normal judgment of danger. She would have climbed that thing at about age 2 and then she would have jumped off.

Wes, on the other hand, is a little bit more cautious. When he’s ready to try something, it’s probably okay. So I stand there to catch him if he falls, but I let him do it. However, I sometimes notice other parents at the playground being even more cautious than I am. Not letting their kids on the monkey bars at all. Then there are the parents on the bench watching from FAR AWAY while their 2yo scales them all.

My question is this: Is this a different parenting style? Or is it different with each type of kid? I didn’t hover as much with Nikki because – with her bravery – came solid skill. She has always been good at playground equipment, if that’s possible. She’s a good climber and she’s agile so I haven’t worried as much. Now, I never felt comfortable sitting off in the distance, but I didn’t hover like I do with Wes who isn’t as confident. (He doesn’t even like to do slides right now.)

What kind of playground parent are you? Do you hate them all together? Do you give all of your kids the same freedom or does it depend on their skill level? Do you hover in case they plummet to their death? Because – while I hover – I do still let them do it. I don’t stop them as long as they are physically big enough to do something. I like to think that makes me not QUITE as annoying with the hovering.

27 thoughts on “What Kind of Playground Parent Are You?”

  1. My two and a half year old is a dare devil. And for the most part I sit on a bench and watch her scramble on and off things. The exceptions are things like Wes is on. I hate that thing. She is also very willful and no amount of begging her to go play on something else works. But whenever she gets on something clearly designed for older children I stand by to catch her.

    Really I’m not very good at playgrounds. They are my husband’s forte. He loves to play as much as she does.

  2. karainmd – Maryland – I am an event coordinator and a mom to two boys. I am whey free, dairy free and gluten free.
    Kara says:

    I hover. A lot. I let them try it but my heart stops as they jump off of it and run to the next thing.

  3. I sit on a bench and let my kids do their thing. Kids so rarely get to explore and do things on their own, that I figure the playground is their thing. However, both of my kids are not risk-takers and not big climbers, so *I* had the freedom to stand back.

  4. Definitely sit. I agree with Cagey – there are so few times when kids can just play and self supervise these days that I try to give them that whenever possible. We all fell off monkey bars and no one caught us. We just got up and dusted off and learned what we were and were not capable of – or tried again.

    The big step for me though has been not hovering when they are in the pool. Now that the little one is swimming down and grabbing dive sticks of the drain at 7.5 feet without even thinking about it – I have to tell myself it’s okay to not just sit and stare at them they whole time they are out there as long as I can keep an ear to what is going on from inside the house.

  5. My husband and I have different approaches. He gives my son the freedom to explore, to fall and to assure our kid that it’s okay, it’s all apart of playing. But I’m all, “SAFETY! SAFETY!” So I hover and I cannot relax, though I bite my tongue when I see my son walking *up* the slide and instead of yelling, I holler. There’s a lot of hollering.

  6. The Spohrs wrote about this today on their blog. Only it was from a different perspective. Interesting posts when you read both of them

  7. I think Nikki broke me in with those climbing things. I still hover a bit with Wes, until I see he has the hang of it. Then I back off. But deep down? I HATE THEM WITH ALL OF MY HEART.

  8. I’ve gotten better but when Nikki was little I hovered even as she walked up the stairs. I think E helped calm me down a bit as he was totally more relaxed playing with them and I saw how much fun they’d have.

  9. I hover for each new “thing” at the playground…new slides or ladders or monkey bars. Once I feel they have the hang of it (sometimes it requires coaching, “Put your foot THERE”) then I back off and read 🙂

  10. I don’t hover unless it’s something new and risky, then I hover until they have the hang of it. Mainly because my Dad did catch me (grin) so my background is that it’s good having hands there until you feel strong, then they leave you be.

    I don’t swim well, really much at all. So I’m nervous around water even if my kids aren’t involved. I think we’re going to give them swim lessons this winter, but they do okay in the shallow end with water wings and I’m decent about backing off. BUT – they like me to play with them, and I like to play, so sometimes in the pool it’s less hovering and more playing together. But in general? I’m not good around water. My own fears for myself get in my way.

  11. Oh, Man. That is one of my rules. NO CLIMBING UP THE SLIDE. Mainly because OTHER kids can get hurt. At our own playground in our yard? Sure. If they’re by themselves. But with other kids? I say Safety Rules that keep EVERYONE safe are important. BUT – I’m the only parent at our playground that enforces it, so my kids have gotten hurt several times going down a slide not seeing a kid climbing up until it was too late. :sigh:

  12. What’s the difference between “yelling” and “hollering?” I thought they were both words that meant “raising your voice.”

  13. Good point! I do yell in those situations. It’s easier for me to yell at him to cut it out in those very dangerous situations than wait and see what happens. So yelling and hollering both.

  14. I yell when more of an emotional charge is needed and holler when it’s a general announcement (please put your pants back on, we have to go to school) but still has weight.

  15. I think I’m a little bit of everything. Things that I know he is too small for, I don’t let him do. He’s a good listener most of the time, so it works out. Things he wants to try and can probably do but could cause him to get hurt, I hover. Things I know he can do, I sit on the bench. But a lot of times he wants me to play with him on the equipment, so I’m generally pretty close by but not hovering.

  16. GREAT way to describe it. Yelling requires A) Urgency or B) Emergency type situation, Hollering is just a general, raising your voice a bit to send a mildly important message. Heh.

  17. Brandy – Indiana Hoosier Baby! – I'm a wife to my amazingly talented writer husband, Gabe, and a mom of two, Aiden and Olivia. In my free time (ha!) I'm a registered nurse. More importantly than the rest, I am part of an Apostolic Pentecost church and am currently a Sunday School teacher. I care deeply about my service for the Lord and part of that is being a modest woman. Modesty isn't just part of my religion, it's my life and how I live every day, but being modest doesn't mean having no fashion or fun. And that's what I want to show you here. I hope you come along for the ride.
    Brandy says:

    I am totally a hovered with a bit of “well, if they get hurt a little they will learn their lesson for next time” thrown in! LOL. Does that make sense?? I certainly don’t want them to get hurt but I do want them to explore and have adventures and climb and run without worry. So I’m around but not on top of them and they certainly have a chance to get into trouble but with the safety net of mom or dad around, which I think is a good thing.

  18. I’ve always felt it was kind of based on age, regardless of skill. T is very physically cautious by nature, so I haven’t had to worry TOO much. Now that he’s 5, I’m trying to pull back a bit more. The last trip we took to the playground, I gave him some rules – run and play with the other kids, have fun, I’ll wander around and keep my eye on the general area, but not follow (there were some fence openings and areas behind trees and just too many random adults for my comfort level), but NO monkey bars/climbing structures unless I know you’re on them. (My fear being if there was serious injury, there was nobody there to know WHICH parent to come get).

    My thought on it being an age thing rather than a skill thing is the reasoning abilities behind it. Like you mentioned, Nikki would have climbed and jumped at age 2 not realizing that was a bad idea. They have to be old enough, for me, to realize that the risks they’re taking are risks — “jumping is fun, jumping off of something much taller than me could hurt me really badly.” And I feel like they need to have enough logic to be able to figure out how to safely get back down.

  19. I don’t love playgrounds because they are too much work. But we go to them when it isn’t 1000 degrees (why are there never trees to give shade?). Sabrina never really tried anything she couldn’t do. She is somewhat cautious and very dramatic so she sounds the alarm quickly and easily. Tessa has no fear and makes me twitch. I don’t think of it as hovering – I think of it as being a spotter. I tend to stay nearby in case one of them gets into trouble (Tessa mostly these days). Those big play ground pieces have the openings for poles and things so I’m always afraid Tessa will come tumbling out of one of those. So no, I never get to sit down – but I’ve also not had a child fall off and bread an arm yet.

  20. I’m to the point that I can pretty much sit back and chat with people while my kids (almost 5 & 2.5 yo) climb away. It’s quite a relief to have a younger one who is fearless and has skill to back it up. In fact, I likely have to help my older child more than the younger.

  21. We are at parks constantly and have been since my first was about 16 months old. She is a good, confident climber. When she’s not confident, she will ask for help, but then I just coach verbally, and stay close so that she can feel secure that I’ll catch her. I did go up big structures with her for a long time because there are drop off points for ladders and poles and stuff that I was worried she would back off of. Now she’s aware enough of her surroundings that I don’t freak out about that. At one of our favorite parks, there are two playground structures, and she was up the big one from a very young age. Then she was one of the first kids in our playgroup to start going up the big ladders on it, rather than just the steps. At first I would get under her just in case, but eventually she was very confident and good at it, and I stopped worrying. One day last summer (she was 3.5) another mom pointed out to me that Adriana was climbing “the beanstalk” and I should go get underneath her. I did, so that my friend wouldn’t think I was neglectful, but I’d honestly not worried about that particular structure for a year at that point.

    We’d really gotten to the point where I could sit and hang out with my friends and watch her play, which was nice when the new baby came last year. Of course, now the new baby is an insane 1.5 year old who wants to keep up with the 4.5 year olds. She wants to go up the big play structures, and I have to admit that this time I’m lazier and sometimes refuse to go with her and redirect her to something more her size. She’s less stubborn than my first, so she’s usually okay with that.

  22. I think each kid brings their own unique set of compulsions. My 5 year old is quite competent, and when he conquers some playground structure he tries to climb on the outside/top of it, which ever is more dangerous. My 4 year old is the perfect age. She’s skilled enough to not fall to her death, but not too advanced that she’s trying to create more dangerous situations for herself. However, my 21 month old is a mess. She wants to follow her brother and sister every where. I hover over her like crazy, otherwise she would plummet.

  23. Mostly it depends on Evi’s mood. If she’s feeling adventurous, I stay a little closer. She can manage the climbing walls and stairs and slides all on her own, but things like that one Wes is on TERRIFY me, so when she gets close to those I come running.

  24. My son {4.5 y/o} is very cautious like Wes. While I’d like to just wrap him in bubble wrap & not let him do anything, I try very hard to not put my issues on him & encourage him to try to climb, slide, etc. If it’s something new, I stand right there talking him through it until he builds confidence, then I try to walk away & let him have at it. Playgrounds aren’t good for my anxiety. LOL

  25. I’m totally not a hover-er. At all. I probably was a bit more when they were younger…but I feel like each one of my kids knows his or her limits, if that makes sense.

  26. When we go to the park, Dan tends to run around with the kids, and I tend to watch, read, take pictures. This is because I am too old and fat to climb stuff, and I get sad that I can no longer do the monkey bars…. As usual, the twins are complete opposites when it comes to risk. Zoey is fearless, and she climbs everything like she was born to it. We are not big into hovering (I think both Dan and I were adventurous kids), but if we do hover, it’s around Riley, and it’s actually to push him to climb stuff, so that he learns that he CAN do it. He’s a bit of nervous kid, so even Zoey will stand there and say, “You can do it, Riley!” We are getting them bikes for their 6th birthday in a couple of weeks, and I have already decided to skip the training wheels because I know if he has them to start with, Riley will never want us to take them off. I already know how this is going to go: Zoey will be riding by the end of the first day, and she will keep on until she gets it, even if she falls, and Riley will fall and then have a fit and quit. Good times. While I feel bad that Zoey is way more advanced than Riley in just about everything (and he knows it and is always saying, “I CAN’T do it!”), sometimes I wish he was less of a drama queen.

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