Negotiating Playground Politics in Any Situation

Negotiating Playground Politics in Any Situation

How to handle the tricky situations that pop up on the playground.

By Judy Koutsky

I’m sure you’ve been there as a parent. You’re at the playground and suddenly another mom yells at your son. Or maybe your daughter is the culprit and she’s being mean to another little one. Then there are the clique-y kids who won’t let your child play with them. What’s a parent to do? We asked the experts how to handle key situations.

1. Another mom reprimands your child. Whether you agree with the scolding, tell the mom, "Thank you for looking after the kids,” and remove your child from that scenario, suggests Bill Corbett, a behavior coach and author of Love, Limits & Lessons: A Parent's Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids. Then, redirect your child's attention to another activity. “It's your chance to model handling conflict appropriately,” says Corbett. By being the bigger person, you’re showing your child sometimes it’s smarter to walk away.

2. A child is being mean to your child and the mom/nanny isn't doing anything. If your child's safety is not at risk, avoid running in to intervene immediately, says Corbett. Instead see if your child can handle the situation independently (by walking away or playing with another child). Then talk to him later about the behavior and how he handled it in the correct way. Of course, if the behavior escalates or if your child is threatened in any way, you should step in.

3. Your child is teasing another child and won't stop. Children are impressionable and often use words carelessly. They may be mimicking words or phrases they hear at home, school, or on TV, and may not be aware that their words are hurtful, says Lanada Williams, a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in family issues. Don’t ignore their behavior, instead stop the teasing immediately and explain why their words are hurtful. “Then starting using books with themes that resist peer pressure and promote healthy social interactions,” advises Williams.

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4. A group of kids, including yours, starts arguing while on the jungle gym. Unless it comes to hitting, bullying, or outright cruelty, avoid the impulse to jump in, and see if the kids can work it out. But if it escalates, you should “block the negative situation by announcing the positive expectations, ‘When you’re at the park, everyone should be having fun.’” says Williams. “Then present a new idea to the group.” Suggest a game that all the kids can participate in. Later, when things calm down, you can talk to your child about her role and behavior at the park (explaining what’s acceptable and what’s not).

5. An angry mom approaches you about your child. Sometimes playground conflicts are a he said/she said kind of situation and it's not entirely clear who was in the right. As much as your gut may be to defend your child (even if he’s wrong), try not to escalate the situation. The mom may have other things going on in her life that are influencing her perception of what's going on. Try not to get angry, too. Instead, hear the mother out and give her the benefit of the doubt. If she continues to be angry, take your child to a different part of the playground.

6. The other kids won’t play with your child. As a parent, nothing feels worse than having your child excluded. But ultimately you can’t force other kids to like your child. If it doesn’t seem to be bother your child, let her continue playing independently. “Children should learn that ‘I’m OK with playing alone” and practice it,” says Williams. She points out that playing alone can foster creativity, which is a good thing. But if it’s clearly hurting her feelings, try to get your child to focus on a different activity. If that doesn’t work, then leave to do something else. Then talk to your child openly about the situation and her feelings. Kids are pretty resilient and get over things quickly. You may be more upset about it than she is.


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What have you experienced on the playground that made you feel uncomfortable?

Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of, AOL Parent and Follow her on Twitter @JudyKoutsky.

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