"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
September 10, 2015
Letting Kids Play at the Playground
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


My husband and I have a large blended family. When we go to the park, we let our children play on the playground while we play tennis about twenty feet away. We can see the children at all times and are able to help them if they need help.

The problem is that other parents at the playground give us dirty looks. Our children are perfectly safe and adequately supervised. They are not disrupting anyone, hurting anything or in any kind of danger. It’s a modern public park and we are twenty feet away, for goodness sake.

These other parents follow their children around the playground with constant nagging to be careful, slow down, come back here, don’t touch that, that’s dirty, that’s dangerous — it’s exhausting to watch and not how I want to parent.

How do I handle their dirty looks and muttering?


One of the strangest things I ever saw was a mother who yelled, “Don’t run!” at her little boy as he ran across a playground.

“Don’t run,” is great instruction if a child is inside a house, or at church, or in a store. But the whole point of a playground is to provide a place for the rough, active play that does not belong inside the house.

Do we jump off the bureau in our bedroom? No. Do we jump off the platform at the playground? Yes. Do we climb up the wrong side of the banister at Grandma’s house? No. Do we climb up the playset at the park? Yes.

The park is also a place where children can play they way they want to. Children know what is fun and what is not. I have never seen a child stare at a play structure, sand box or swing in confusion and bewilderment. And most children are perfectly able to find something to do at a park.

Whether they want to sit in the shade and look at bugs, dig in the dirt or go down the slide 700 times, their job is to amuse themselves until their parent is ready to go home.

The parent’s job at the park, in my opinion, is to enjoy the fresh air while providing general supervision and calling out occasional encouragement such as, “Nice climbing,” and “Hop up. You’re okay.”

A parent should provide correction when necessary, of course, especially when a child is bothering another person, but it is usually unnecessary to follow one’s child around the playground, offering instruction and suggestions and warning about the dangers of germs, climbing, jumping, sliding, hanging upside down and falling.

The park is also a good place for parents to observe their children’s physical and social skills. A parent might notice that a child has trouble joining in games, or that he doesn’t climb stairs as well as the other children. Or that a child is amazing at monkey bars, or makes friends easily. This is important information, and it is hard to glean except from a bit of a distance.

Letting children play without constant close supervision also gives parents confidence in their children’s abilities. It helps them be less nervous parents.

All of this is to say that I think you are doing a good thing by letting your children play without constant interference and instruction. I hope you also allow them to get reasonably dirty, to roam within a reasonable range, and to try reasonably challenging new things.

So, the question now is, are you going to let the other parents at the park knock you off your game? Are you going to cave to their disapproving looks and let them control the way you parent your children? Are you going to allow them to decide whether you play tennis? You are not. You are going to keep doing what you feel is best without any reference to them.

One might even say you are going to set an example for them by proving how safe and enjoyable the park can be when parents and children pursue their own interests and activities (including just sitting there for parents) instead of huddling together and stressing about germs, heights and how far the child is from his parent.

Here is what you might do the next time you are in this situation.

One, exude confidence. You are confident that your children are perfectly safe at the playground while you play tennis. Let this confidence show. Avoid nervous, worried expressions. Appear cheerful and calm instead. Wave happily to the children once in a while. Stand up straight.

If you see another parent interfering with your child, call out a cheery, “Excuse me — he’s all right. He’s allowed to do that.” Or, “She’s fine.” If another parent comments to you that you sure have a lot of kids, and don’t you get nervous playing tennis while they run wild, you can say, “Oh, I know. It’s so much fun. We love the park.” But aren’t you nervous? “Oh, no. We come here all the time. They’re fine.”

Two, ignore the disapproving looks. These people are strangers. They have no power over you. It’s a public park and a free country. If they want to ruin their evening at the park by sniffing and looking askance at you, that’s their problem.

If you’d like, you can imagine they are jealous of your confident, independent children. And of the fact that you are playing tennis while they wander around after a four-year-old who is perfectly capable of playing by herself.

Three, there is no three. Just look confident and ignore the mutterers. Go ahead and do what you want to do even if you can tell another parent is judging you hard. It takes a bit of guts to play tennis or to sit on a bench and play with your phone while other parents shadow their children around the playground. But you cannot allow other people to make you feel ashamed of a perfectly sensible parenting strategy.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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