Playground & Park Etiquette
Archived Q&A and Reviews
We were at Willard tot playground with our 22-month-old son on a recent windy weekend morning when a father and his two kids entered the gates. The son (7 or 8) was bored and started hurling a frisbee around. As the frisbee whistled past small children, I asked the father if the son could take the frisbee elsewhere. The father (a husky middle aged man) launched into a tirade about ''overprotective parents'' and told his son to keep playing frisbee. When my husband told him to show more respect, he tried to goad my husband into a physical fight. My husband did not take the bait. The question is, how do we react when we next encounter him in the park? Willard tot playground is a weekend sanctuary for us. Yet this man also frequents the place and clearly enjoys conflict. peaceful playground seeker
Do you really not know what to do? Just ignore him. Pretend that you never had this previous encounter with him. This may entail ignoring any offensive frisbee throwing, but as you have learned, confronting him doesn't work anyway. I hate jerks too
Mean (and rude) people suck! I would kindly reiterate my concerns for my child if you see this man's child putting other kids at risk. Be nice yourself. If he continues to act out of line, I would seriously give the Berkeley Police a jingle to show him you are serious. Provoking a physical fight in the park in the presence of children is unacceptable. Why can't we all just get along?
Is it ever worth it to get into an argument with somebody at the playground? I recently started regularly taking my only child to a fantastic neighborhood playground. Most of the other parents are at least polite, and many are even friendly. There are toys lying around that people have brought and left, and there is an unspoken rule that an unattended toy is pretty much up for grabs. It's been a great place for my kid to learn about sharing. I usually bring along a spare truck that I can use in trade; for example, if he's playing with another child's toy and the kid needs to go home I'll swap the borrowed toy for the truck. Today, another child actually went through my bag and took out the truck to play with. When he eventually took the truck to his mother, I approached her and asked if I could get it back. She asked if I was leaving and I said no, I just wanted to put the truck away and she rolled her eyes and told her son that my son didn't want to share though neither of our kids is of talking age. I took this as a personal insult but controlled myself and just put the truck away. I didn't think anything would be gained by pointing out that her kid had gone through my bag... it just felt like she was looking to pick a fight. Now at the end of the day I feel that she's won somehow and I wish that I had told her to control her kid and keep him out of people's bags, or that I had taken the truck away from him when I first saw that he had it. What exactly is the playground ettiquite for a situation like this? Do you enforce the same rules for other kids that you enforce for your own? Do you ask the parents to control their kids? I never let my son go through other people's bags or stroller baskets, why should I let other kids go through mine? Also, I'd never seen this family before, so I'm wondering why I was so concerned about looking like a bully in the first place, or why it bothers me so much that she disapproves of me. I feel like I'm in the 5th grade again and one of the cool kids just told me that my favorite sweater is ugly and now I want to hide a snake in her lunchbox. Nerd Mom
I've been in your situation many times and I feel that you handled the situation perfectly. I don't believe there is really anything to be gained by lecturing other parents about their children's behavior, even when I don't agree with what they are doing. I also think it's important to note that I didn't always feel this way, especially not when my child was younger.
I've been on both sides of this issue: having the out-of-control kid with terrible behavior and being subjected to the same. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just walk away, especially with pre-verbal children. You asserted your boundaries, got your property back and walked away: kudos to you! You might ask yourself what you would like to gain from lecturing the other mother.... My experience is that everyone has their own tolerance level for playground behavior, so I would just try to seek out people that seem to be on the same wavelength and let the others find their own friends as well. Don't Judge Me Please!
Dear Nerd Mom,
You are not alone. I've often thought that political summit meetings have nothing on toddler playgrounds: the negotiations are equally volatile, and they both require lots of backup (toys, that is). That said, I think the mom you're talking about was a boor. Boor, boor, boor. Her kid was wayy out of line to get all up in your bag, and the way she handled it was wrong. If I'm at, say, Thousand Oaks or Totland and my toddler touches someone else's stuff, I gently tell her, ''That belongs to someone else,'' or ''That's not ours,'' and I redirect her immediately to another one of the toys there. Heaven knows, there are enough!
I think it's perfectly ok to calmly tell another parent that you'd prefer their child not go into your things. Let her eyes roll right out of her head, girlfriend: it's YOUR stuff. One time, at one of these parks, a little boy had been hogging a very popular little cart for an entire hour. My daughter had been obviously crying for it, repeatedly trying to get in there, and finally, after a full hour of the mom totally ignoring (and that's a whole other issue - this mom did not interact with her son the whole hour I was there) the interactions and my exasperation with trying to distract my daughter, I kindly went up to the mom and asked if my daughter could sit in the car for a minute. The mom looked at me, smirked, and then went back to reading her book.
Oh, man. My inner Rambo wanted to chuck that book of hers into some cavity where the Berkeley Parents Network would surely censor me, but you get the picture. We do what we can. We are bag stuffers and emptiers. We are tooth gritters and grinders. We are moms.
See you at the parks. Live Long and Prosper
Argh! I feel your frustration! I haven't had _exactly_ that experience but I've sure run across some obnoxious parents since taking my (now 18 month-old) son to several local playgrounds.
And from the way you describe it, your instinct sounds about right -- this woman wanted to pick a fight and you happened to be the first opportunity. She was also passive-aggressive enough to make you feel it was your fault.
Unfortunately, I think you just have to eat it. Not to go completely ''Dear Abby'' on you, but it's just not worth it. When a stranger has interacted with me this way, I've either just ignored it completely, made a non-committal ''uh-huh'' (which is pretty passive-aggressive but seems better than a heated argument), or have made some sort of other non-committal comment.
The few times I've responded to show how peed off I am about how someone's spoken to me, it hasn't made things any better....
I bet you're nervous about what to do when you see her again. (Well, I would be! That bottom-rung of the schoolyard feeling is horrible.) But just ignore her. Really. You can be sure she isn't exactly loving being herself anyway. Her being mean to you has got to be a sympton of how unhappy she is about her world. And _that_ might be enough to make you feel better, too :) Not a snarky parent
I could have written your posting! Upon reading your submission, I exclaimed, ''It's great knowing there are other parents out there who struggle with this issue!'' I immediately had my husband read your posting, because I describe similar situations to him often.
Many a park day, I have found myself in jaw-dropping situations, which left me overwhelmed and questioning my parenting abilities. So many times, I have discussed these situations w/ my husband, who is (thank goodness)a magnificent sounding board and voice of common sense. Who would have suspected that innocent trips to the park would put you in such a confused state? I think I could most definitely write a book entitled, ''Everything Your Child Will Need to Know in Life Will be Revealed in the Sandbox.''... Required reading before, ''Everything I Need to Know in Life I Learned in Kindergarten.''
I have two young children myself -- a 5 + 2 year old, so I am still in the midst of park scenarios, yet have some experience to speak from. What we have come to ''teach'' our children about park toys is that if we bring a toys to the park, other children may play with them if my children are not playing with them. If, however, my children would like to play with their toys and if other children are playing w/ them, I (now my older child is able to ask on his own) kindly assert that those are indeed my child's toys and please may we have them back, thank you very much. Likewise, we play w/ toys that are out and about but if a child approaches us and lets us know that it his, we oblige by returning his toy.
Things don't always go ''perfectly'' and I believe that to be a valuable lesson as well... Things may not always go as we like. And sometimes it is better to ''let it go'' than expect to share each and every thing precisely all of the time. Because that is not realistic. We just have to try to get along, and unkind words in response to rudeness and selfishness may put you in an akward situation down the road.
Nice children come from nice families where cooperative behaviors are modeled. It is obvious from your posting that you care about park ettiquite and making your park fun for all. Been there, doing that
People will be people-is my first response to this incident. I know it has happened to me also but I believe you had a problem and it was solved surely you can't expect others to react the same way as you would? As long as you are polite i.e. please and thank you, you have done all you can do. We all have different ideas of sharing and perhaps she did not see all that you saw or maybe it was not you at all maybe she had a bad day but because she said nothing verbally you must not assume anything- or take defense. Had she not given you the toy back then I can see the offense.
Also I think you confuse things when you say you want to teach your child how to share but arent willing to share yourself also you said the child was not of talking age so for you to want the child to ask for the toys seems odd.
My last words are relax its a park!!! kids will interact with one another and they will use each other toys don't penalize the child (''you or your did not ask or apologize for the toy therefore you can't play with my toy'') for his mother's thoughtlessness --when faced with such a situation try not to be defensive try to be positive solution solver! Have fun playing! zee
Hi Nerd Mom, You were absolutely right; the other mom was rude and the kid was out of line going through your stuff (though if the child was pre-talking, that behavior is natural, and stopping him was the mom's job.) Period. You did the right thing, and I hope that other mom reads this and realizes she was rude, and that no one will want to play with her and her kid if she treats other people like that. Hope to see you at the playground! Me and my (mostly) well-mannered kids would love to hang out with you! Heidi
The playground atmosphere is like life. You will run into a lot of great people and some real lemons. Don't take it so hard. You will probably have more of these encounters before your child ages out of the playground system. Blow these types of encounters off as quickly as you can and focus on the many friends you'll find at the park. -anon
It is common at most playgrounds that if children bring toys, they put the toys in the sandbox. If the child is playing with it, that's nice, but if the child isn't playing with it, they can ''share.'' This is what our culture does at playgrounds.
In addition, children have simplistic concepts at this stage. The other mother was right. You (and by extension) your child didn't want to share right then.
Sharing is a pervasive concept at that age. If the child gets the toy, that is sharing. Not everybody wants to share all the time. This business of keeping a toy ''for trade'' is not done.
It sounds to me as though your intuitive approach is a controlling one and that you have a bit of a thin skin. Have you thought of hooking up with an experienced mom and asking her what she does about things?
You will make yourself miserable if you don't kind of go with the flow for these things. If you only want one toy at the playground, only bring one toy. If you want two or three, then share them. This isn't a bad rule, and it's one that children can understand.
You mention that the children aren't speaking yet. So how would the other child understand the social niceties of ''yes there is a fun toy in the bag but you cannot have it. Bobby's mommy wants it to stay in the bag.'' ?
If you don't want children going through your bag, stop them from going through your bag. This is a fine thing to stop a child from doing. You can phrase it like ''ooh. Watch out. There are things in there I don't want to spill.'' at which point the child's mother is supposed to say ''Sheila, we don't go through bags.'' I swear, you can CHART these interactions.
Once you figure out how it works, you'll do fine, but IMHO you'll have to really look for advice and mentoring so that you don't pound your head against the wall and make yourself miserable. It was smart of you to post on this list. experienced mom
Short answer: Don't put your bag where kids can get into it. Another short answer: Don't bring toys to the park.
More thoughts: Like you said, there are toys already there that ''live'' at the park and having to collect your toys to take them home can cause the annoying drama you described. In my opinion, going to the park is for seeing other kids, playing on the equipment there, etc. If your son is going to play with his toys from home, what is the point? I also think you should not have taken the other mom's saying, ''That boy doesn't want to share'' as a personal insult. That is a valid explanation. Would you have been happier if she said, ''This big lady doesn't want to share?'' The other mom probably thinks you are just as annoying for bringing a toy that you were willing to share and then collecting it at a random time. She probably would have been quite willing to give it back when you were leaving. She was no doubt not aware that her son got it out of your bag which you assumed was safe. Finally, your philosophy of trying to pawn off one of your toys to other kids if, when that other kid is going home, your kid still has their toy, is weird and unfair. It it not to early to teach your son that you can borrow things but have to give them back when the owner wants them. Hands-free park goer
While I do not approve the behavior of that mother, I think she's got a point--provided the truck was pretty visible in the bag or the child had seen your child play with it and put it away in the bag. If you are in a park where there are toys to be shared and you bring a toy from your home, I think the same rule applies: everybody can play with it. It's true a child should be taught to respect other's possesions, but if there is a bag and a truck is highly visible... it just seems too much temptation for the little one! Yes, it's true the little one went over your bag, but it's also true you didn't want to share in a place where the understated rule is that all toys are to be shared. So while I agree her manners were not appropiate, I also think if you bring something to the park from home it should be shared with everybody. Anon
I'm sorry you had an upsetting encounter with another parent at the playground. However, no offense, but the whole incident does not sound like that big a deal to me. Question - are you sure the other parent saw her child take the toy truck out of your bag? Perhaps all she saw was that you wouldn't let her son play with the toy, without knowing how he got it? Also,if neither child is talking yet, that's pretty young - not old enough to understand that it's not ok to take a toy out of somebody else's bag. Sure, the other mom should have corrected it if she saw it, but maybe she didn't, and even if she did, it doesn't seem to me like something to get all upset about. I also don't understand why you didn't just let the child play with the toy -- given the short attention span at this age, he would have abandoned it soon enough, you could have put it back in your bag, and you could have avoided an unpleasant encounter. Having said that, I do think it was a bit rude of the other mom to roll her eyes and make the comment about not sharing-- if it had been me, I would have just given the toy back without comment.
As for playground etiquette -- no, I don't think you need to stand by while somebody else's toddler goes through your bag -- you could, in a very friendly voice, say to the child, ''oh no, that's not for sharing'', (or something like that) as you gently take the bag away. If I were the child's parent, I would jump in at that point and say ''no, Johnny, we don't go through other people's things''
If, on the other hand, you march up to someone and angrily demanded that they ''control'' their child, you will be putting them on the defensive - you're effectively implying that the other parent isn't doing their job - you're likely to get an angry, reactive response. Instead, if you must say something, again I recommend doing it in a friendly way, and assume the other parent just hasn't noticed the unacceptable behavior, for example ''excuse me, I wonder if you've noticed that your child is going through my bag?'' That's if you must say anything at all. Frankly, in this situation, I would just let it go. Diane
First of all, remember that the kid is just a kid... Yeah, it's rude to go through someone's bag but I wouldn't worry too much, I mean did you mention this to the other mom? She probably was just being consistent when she said that ''you didn't want to share..''. I wouldn't think too hard about it. Whenever I go to the park and leave a bag somewhere I try to put it up where kids cannot get to it. They're just curious (think curious george...).
Just think ''I'm a duck and whatever this other mom said is just water off my back.'' Think, she needs to live with herself, and you can leave her and her kid at the park. Further, I think it is best to just be really kind to everyone because we're all going through a great struggle--you don't know, maybe she's ill or has a a really difficult struggle. Just think you have school and PTA to look forward to! Duck Mom
The proper etiquette would have been for her not to ask you why you wanted the toy back. For your own sanity, let it go. I tend to ruminate about that kind of stuff too, thinking of what I ''should have said'' long after the situation is over. It's not unreasonable for you to want to keep track of your things and not have to monitor which random kid has your kid's toy. Liz
Just wondering why you got so upset over the event. It doesn't seem that big a deal that the toddler accidently grabbed a truck that wasn't being played with and wanted to play with it. I know the park you're talking about. If it were me, I would've simply told the mom 'Oh I actually brought that from home. Can you make sure I get it when he's done playing with it? Thanks.' I don't understand why you needed it back in your purse.
I do agree that the other mom was rude when she rolled her eyes but I understand her point. You weren't leaving the park so why did you need the toy? Also, if both your kids are too young to talk how was she supposed to discipline her kid about not taking toys out of bags after the incident was over? My 2+ year old would just look at me blankly if I tried to tell him not to do that 5 minutes after it occurred. Just sayin
When she accused your child of not wanting to share, you should said with a big smile, ''No, *I'm* the big meanie who doesn't want to share. I just don't feel like sharing my truck right now. And I never ever EVER share my purse.''
This sharing business has gotten out of control -- it's become some kind of constitutional right to use other people's stuff. Just because someone asks for something doesn't mean you have to give it to them. Sharing is supposed to be a voluntary act that you do to make others happy, not because you're pressured into it. If someone doesn't want to share, for whatever reason, what's the point of shaming them into it? Perhaps I'm bitter -- I lost my husband's $30 basketball at the playground because I shared it and wasn't paying attention when the person I shared it with left with it.
I think it's fine to tell the mom, no, I don't know when I'm leaving, but I need to keep my stuff in my bag or I'll forget it and leave it here. She was just pissed at you because she couldn't face the terrible act of taking a toy away from her kid. Not being able to do something because it might make your kid cry is, of course, an excellent parenting strategy that will work out really well for her later on. Fran
The kid shouldn't have been rummaging through your bag. If the mother saw it, she should have stopped it. If she didn't, then she should have apologized for her childs actions. The kid isn't being annoying, just a kid. I can't tell you how many times I have had to leap tall buildings with a single bound to preserve some other mother's purse from being taken hostage by my one-year-old (my three-year-old did the same thing until about a year ago). I would chalk it up to a 'bad day' on the part of the other mother. Maybe she was up all night because her child was screaming with molars coming in...or maybe her husband just announced that he was leaving her for his 20-year-old secretary. If it happens again, just ask her to keep a closer eye on her son in a friendly sort of way. kids will be kids, but moms should be better
I may be in the minority, but in the amount of time I've been a parent, I have gone from a ''never interfering'' policy to developing a pretty nervy willingness to corral other people's kids. I try to be straightforward, and not blaming. I know many times it's hard to keep a precise eye on what your kids are doing, and I try to assume innocence on behalf of the adults in charge, and the kids themselves. But when other kids have trampled my own, or swiped a toy that my kid brought to the park and actually wants, I talk to them as I would my own (ideally, kindly but firmly). I actually have this problem more with older kids who tend to be less supervised (or not at all) and I just step in and say, as I just did last weekend, ''hey-- please don't throw the redwood bark. There are lots of little kids around and someone could get hurt.'' I buy into the communal parenting idea, and hope that if I miss my kid doing something that offends, someone will call us on it-- kindly but firmly.
However, I also buy into the communal toy idea. And I try to get my kids to share what they bring to the park, in the spirit of having more available for everyone. So in your situation, I guess I would have mentioned to the mom that her son had taken it from my bag, but at some point you need to let these things go otherwise you'll make yourself crazy. And yes, the whole process of becoming a parent-- in terms of social interaction with other adults-- can be frighteningly like being in Junior High. Say what you need to but hold the snakes.
It's perfectly fine for you to approach the parent of the wayward youngster about getting the toys back. While you will inevitably find (here in the Bay Area) a few parents at each playground who think ever saying ''no'' to their kids is wretchedly cruel and poor parenting, it's perfectly fine for you to say (nicely) ''whoops, your little cutie is fascinated by stroller bags. ;) Can we please have our truck back? Thanks!''. This is less likely to put someone on the defensive, but also lets them know what their child is up to.
It's natural to feel like we're all back in junior high when this stuff happens; there's nothing like other fussy parents to make you feel awkward, in my experience. But you're not crossing any line of etiquette or decency by being politely firm about issues like this (and it's a good message to the little one to ask before rummaging). - Appreciative of Consideration and Niceness at Playgrounds
I think you have every right to be angry! I would have been upset too. I have been lucky to not have a situation come up like this at the park. BUT you had every right, it was your bag. I had a situation that made me feel similar at Costco a couple of weeks ago. Another member picked up the orange juice that had fallen off our cart, I saw him putting it in his truck!!! And he was incredibly rude when I approached him about it. I had to get the manger involved, and while the end result was I got a shiny new orange juice, it sure left a bad taste in mouth and this man was old enough to be my grandfather! People can be incredibly rude in the most strange circumstances! I'm not sure what the park ettiquite is, but I don't let my child rummage through other people's belongings either, it's rude! I would have said something to that order, though it sounds like she was trying to pick a fight...lame! people can be unbelievably rude!
I have two kids who are now ages 10 & 7 and so looking back at these types of situations I may have some insight. I think you can't change people like that and it isn't worth the stuggle. But having said that, I think you can sometimes politely state your case (unless the other mom is crazy-- which is also a learning lesson to your kid that some people are best avoided.) can say that maybe she didn't see, but he grabbed it out of your bag & you guys are glad to share, but he found this one in your bag, and that you brought one he CAN have-- here it is.
So many people out there have so many issues, just feel good knowing that your kid has a mom who cares, and if someone is mean to you it's a good time to show how you can let it roll off your back, because your kid will run into ''meanies'' his whole life, at the playground, at preschool, at college. I still don't understand how some parents are so oblivious to what their kid is doing and then assuming their kid is always ''right'' I try to remind myself how lucky my kids & I are that I'm not like that. And now I see the fruits of my ''niceness.'' Mainly, communicate with your own kid about what happened. been there seen that
I'm the original poster. Thanks to everybody for their responses. Some folks missed the point that I DID wait for the child to finish playing with the toy, after which he handed it to his mother and that is when I asked for the toy back. So yes, we did share the toy with the kid. I do not have a problem with sharing, I have a problem with parents picking a fight. I'll take the advice of many posters and just let the issue go. There are plenty of nice parents to play with. Nerd Mom
You got lots of advice already, but I wanted to reaffirm that the creepy mom at the park only ''wins'' if you let her get to you.
The line I've always used (in my head -- not out loud!) in situations like that one is, ''OK, you have to deal with her --- but at least you don't have to BE her....'' somehow it always helps me pull out one last ounce of patience or humor.
If anything I'd feel sorry for the kid and probably let him KEEP the truck to make up for having such a cranky mommy. And yes, I'd take a bag that closes tightly, or no bag at all. Been there. Pretending I'm bigger than That.
I read your post and waited anxiously to read responses b/c I have been in very similar situations at the park with my 2 and 3 y.o. After reading some of the responses, I felt compelled to write in your defense.
The part about sharing toys...I've just given up taking our things to the park..too hard to keep track of, monitor, referee, etc. Even my very easy going husband has stopped bringing things from home b/c he felt like the bad cop.
We only play with what is there, and if my kids pick up something that belongs to someone else, I loudly say ''that's not ours'' and wait for a cue from the other parent who often say ''he can play with it, Johnny isn't'' I then make sure that if Johnny returns, we give it back and thank him for sharing.
The part about thinking about what you should have said after the fact...I am a SAHM and sometimes the only adult I talk to all day might be another parent at a park, and so, yes, if that interaction was less than ideal, I might ruminate about it more than on a day when I have lots of other adult conversations. Don't be too hard on yourself!
And take YOUR toy back whenever you like, no explanation needed. I feel you