Playground Etiquette 101

By Katie Moosbrugger

With spring in the air, I hauled my kids off to a place they haven’t seen in a long, long time: a playground. The Triad is full of so many wonderful parks, but for my 9 and 12-year-olds, playground play is a rarity anymore. Shame on me for thinking they are too old to enjoy this type of outing because they had a blast, and it was a nice break for me to sit and do nothing on a beautiful day.

Yet while I was there, I couldn’t help but remember all the things that would frustrate me as a parent of a young child at the playground. You know…when the big kids show up and sometimes ruin the fun for the little ones. Or when other park parents are oblivious to what their kids are doing. Or when all the swings stayed occupied no matter how many parents and kids were patiently waiting in line.

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as playground etiquette. Most of these “unwritten rules” are common sense, while some of these so-called rules could be up for debate. Not that I’m trying to be a playground cop, but here is a list that quickly came to mind, as well other “rules” suggested by friends. See if you can add to this…

Know the appropriate age. Believe it or not, sometimes the equipment states the age minimum and maximum. But if you’re like me, you might have kids approaching the maximum age who still enjoy some playground play. Or you might have a toddler who is adventurous beyond her years. I like to think of it this way: if your child is able to climb up or down the slide in a way that’s not meant to be, maybe it’s a sign your child is too old for the playground. Or if you have to climb the equipment with your child, maybe he is too young. However, if you want to ignore the age requirements, that is your prerogative and just consider going to the park during non-peak play hours (which is what we did).

Be mindful of those waiting to play. While you and/or your child are playing, take notice of lines behind you (especially at the slides, swings, rock wall or other equipment), and be willing to step aside after a short while. Please don’t let your child budge in line, and make sure they wait (and see!) that the child ahead on the slide is at the bottom before going down.

Keep an eye on your children, no matter the age. If your child is old enough to play unassisted, then take in the weather, sit back and relax if you can. Or if your child is on the younger side, stay close enough to let them safely try new things without having to squeeze yourself down a slide or in a tiny tunnel. The definitions of “hovering” and “free range” could be subjective, so my advice would be to take the middle road at public playgrounds.

Don’t be afraid to pull out your phone. The playground is a place for parents to unwind too! Too often moms criticize other moms for being on their phone at a playground. It’s OK to check your phone while your kids are playing – especially if you’re keeping one eye on the phone and the other on your kids (see rule above!). It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad mom or ignoring your kids. If you see a mom on her phone, maybe those were the only 30 minutes she had that day to sit and relax while her children played. Maybe she is a single mom who works all day long and never has a moment to catch up on personal email, text messages, or Facebook.

Keep an eye on others’ children. Stuff happens when you least expect it. If you happen to see a child (other than your own) fall down or get hurt or do something potentially dangerous, please offer to help and not let the child suffer alone. A crying child is a crying child, and consoling from any parent is welcomed, at least until Mom and/or Dad arrive.

Be open to sharing. By all means, let your child share his ride on toy – or sidewalk chalk, or bubbles – with another child who asks (unless you are worried about liability). It’s a good way to teach your kids lessons in sharing. On the flip side, if you see your own child trying to sneak something without asking first – or get turned down even if she asked first – it’s a good idea to intervene before it gets awkward for that other mom. One thing not to share, please: snacks and drinks!

Be willing to use your gentle, but firm, voice. If my child was not following these rules, I would want another parent to say something (nicely, but firmly). Hopefully I’d be paying close enough attention so this doesn’t have to happen, but I would welcome an adult reminder should I not catch the misdemeanor in time!

At the end of the day we are responsible for our own decisions and behaviors. What might seem OK to you and your child, might be considered offensive or risky to someone else. It’s a balancing act, especially in a public setting. That said, are there more “rules” you could add to this list? Are there some you disagree with?

3 thoughts on “Playground Etiquette 101

  1. Mary

    I disagree with Maggie. Slides are for going down. They are not for climbing up. Unless you are the only person at the playground, your child could be in the way if he is climbing up a slide. If a child doesn’t see him, they both could be hurt.

    I also cringe when I see kids climbing on top of the enclosed slides. Sure, 99 times out of 100, they won’t fall, but if they do, they could be seriously injured. I am not for wrapping my child in bubble wrap, but nor will I encourage him to use the playground equipment in a way it is not designed for. And even if your 10 year old might be big enough to grip the slide enough get up and down safely, the six year old watching might not be.

    I am probably more cautious than others, and I don’t give other parents the stink eye at the playground, because I know my rules aren’t theirs. But the kids on the top of the enclosed slides scare me!

  2. C. Smith

    Love this list!!!! As a mother & nanny this article is great!!!! Seems pretty common sense to me but common sense is lacking in our society! Very helpful & I love all the suggestions!

  3. Maggie

    I think some of these rules are ridiculous. Kids are going to climb up the slide. Instead of telling them not to do it, i tell them to make sure there is no one coming down before they go up.

    I also do not force sharing. If my child wants to share they can. If they don’t then that is ok because the toy is theirs. I wouldnt share my things with a random adult at a playground so why would i force my child to do it with their things. We do try to leave favorite things at home or in the car to avoid situations like this.


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