“Careful, you’ll fall!” Hearing another parent shout this or something similar to his child when she’s scrambling up a climbing frame can make bystanders stop in their tracks. This parent, though likely well-intentioned, may be undermining his child’s healthy sense of exploration and could even scare her into letting go and falling off.
Risk-taking, experiencing one’s surroundings physically, and testing one’s own strength are all important developmental milestones. Most modern US playgrounds are set up to be quite safe even if a child misjudges her steps, and concentrating on navigating playground equipment safely provides a great focus for many young kids with ADHD.
For obvious reasons, there ought to be a balance between being a safety-conscious parent, and raising a confident child with properly developed physical abilities.
Here are a few simple things you can do to make your child’s playground experience safer and stop yourself from worrying so much.
1. Stay close
Toddlers, and some kids with ADHD, have an uncanny ability to act quickly, often just out of arm’s reach. So, be prepared for the unexpected. It’s a good idea to spot your child as they make a first scramble up a high climbing wall or net. Most parents seem to have a sixth sense for this and manage to catch a child if they lose their balance —as long as they’re right there! Once your child is older and her sense of balance is more consistent, you may comfortably watch her from a distance.
2. Encourage, don’t scare
Supportive phrases, such as “Well done, look where you can put your hand,” or “Hold on tight!” are much safer to use with kids who are easily scared or distracted than words of warning, designed to scare them. Encouraging them will increase their confidence, coordination, and strength.
“It’s particularly important for young children to have the chance to play and take risks,’” says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek PhD, a professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia.
3. Ensure children have a firm grip
Gloves are essential in colder months, but some gloves can make a child’s grip insecure, as can equipment slippery from rain or ice. So, check whether the gloves your child is wearing give a sufficient grip, or if the playground equipment may be too cold or wet to use with control. Reassuringly, a lot of modern playground equipment now has anti-slip design.
4. Be prepared if there is an accident
Read up on information about basic first aid, carry some plasters and wipes and consider a plan of action in case anything does happen. It will make you feel more prepared and, in case of an (unlikely) accident, you will respond more calmly. It is also wise to have the number of a family doctor, or another trusted health care provider, saved on your phone’s speed dial or written in a journal in case of a serious injury.
Observing these basic rules can help parents have fun at playgrounds with their kids, confident they are building their confidence and aiding in their development.