“A Dad Gives His Critique of the Playground” originally appeared on The Good Men Project and was reprinted with permission.
Right now, I suspect a mother is out there talking about me.
I say that, because I am about to talk about her.
I was at a play area with my kids. One of those enclosed, foam-object/spongy-floored deals, where kids can fall and bounce to their heart’s delight. On this particular day, it was relatively crowded. Below zero wind-chills spanned across a decent swath of the U.S., and such temperatures tend to force people inside.
My 3-year-old daughter was running around; my 1-year-old son was climbing all over me. We had been in the room 10 minutes, everyone playing amicably, when I heard my daughter forcefully shouting, “No! I don’t like that!”
I looked up to see her yelling at a boy a little above her age. My daughter had her scolding face on, something she wears when irritated by her younger brother, the dog, or an inanimate object that won’t bend to her will. The two children were about four feet apart, and he was roaring at her playfully. I’m not sure if he was pretending to be a lion, dinosaur, or some other beast, but he was happily yelling “RAWR!” every few moments through a smile. Each time he did, my daughter wagged a finger, “You stop!”
I giggled a bit, but I also noticed a furrowed-brow mom watching the situation.
After a couple more seconds of the “RAWR!”/”I don’t like that!” back and forth, the woman intervened.
“Simon, you need to listen to her. Stop that,” she gently scolded.
The boy moved on, defeated.
I thought the moment odd. From what I saw, they were kids being kids. Neither one was really bullying the other, and nothing violent was happening; they were working things out on their own. Learning social skills, so to speak.
A little while later, my daughter was by me, climbing a toy frog. The “RAWR” boy wandered over and started climbing next to her. Because it was a smallish toy, he eventually bumped into my daughter. Not hard, not on purpose, just two people trying to fit into a tiny space. Like commuters on a Japanese subway.
The mom jumped up, bee-lined over, picked up her son, and took him away with another scolding, “That little girl was playing there first!”
Again, I cocked my head like a puzzled puppy. The kids were doing their best to figure out how to play in the same area at the same time. From what I saw, they were learning how to interact with one another. Granted, maybe the mom knew something I didn’t; maybe her son had a temper and threw tantrums at the drop of a pin, but it didn’t feel like that. It felt like worry — what will other parents think of me if my son misbehaves — and control.
As said, she may be telling someone about me at this very moment. “His daughter was yelling at Simon, and he didn’t do anything!”
Fair enough. But I did nothing, because I thought no action was warranted. Had my daughter and her son become physical — shoving or hitting — I would have jumped in. But sometimes you have to sit back and let kids explore solutions to problems on their own. The boy wanted to roar; my daughter didn’t like it. Big whoop. He’ll have to understand not everyone likes his noise, and she’ll have to learn the whole world doesn’t fall to their knees at her command.
Plus, and maybe I’m giving this too much thought, I’m raising a daughter here. I want to empower her. If she’s willing to stand her ground against a boy bigger than her, why would I want to knock that out of her system? If I begin a system of shutting her down and stepping in to help at every stage, there’s a chance she’ll become infused with either self-doubt or a sense of helplessness. I want her to grow into herself, and I want that person to be a confident woman someday.
I will say this: though I disagree with the mom on her jumping in constantly to intervene, at least she was involved. Like me, she was on the floor, playing with her youngest child and being proactive when it came to her oldest.
I feel better about her than the parents who bury their noses into phones the instant they sit down, oblivious to the world and the children playing around them.
More from The Good Men Project:
- Dads, are you raising kids with commitment issues?
- A new dad’s sleep deprivation: breast pumps, Target, and hell
- 9 things playing high school and college sports teach dads about fatherhood
- What stay-at-home dads teach our kids
- A letter to the son who made me his father forever