Playground etiquette

With summer here and the weather finally getting nicer, like most families our family has been spending a lot more time outside. The park is a wonderful and fun way for children to get exercise, and it is also a great place to learn valuable social skills needed throughout life: sharing, patience and respect. However, these lessons are not always practiced on the playground, so here are some helpful suggestions for parents to ensure everyone has a safe and fun time this summer at the park.

Avoid using cell phones. We are all guilty of sending a text or answering a call at the park, and therefore not paying attention to our children. This is a big concern for many who feel that some parents or caregivers take the kids to the park and tune out what their children are doing. I have found the best way for me to stay focused on my children at the park is to either leave my phone in the car or put it away and only check it occasionally.

Speak up if you see a child in danger or misbehaving
. This is always a tricky one – no one likes to be put in the position of having to discipline other people’s children. However, if another child’s behavior directly affects your child, don’t be shy. Throwing sand, pushing near the slide, or causing harm to another child are all instances where it is appropriate to speak up. If the behavior continues, it might be a good idea to find the parent or caregiver and say, “I think your child needs you.” This is a very nonthreatening way of saying, “Please pay attention.”

If you bring toys to the park, be prepared to share.
New toys at the park, especially sand toys, always fascinate children. When my children were younger and would play for long periods in the sand, we brought our own toys. Now that they are a bit older, we stopped bringing toys to the park because we ended up losing so many of them. Even if your child is less than a year old, the sandbox is a great place to begin teaching the “art” of sharing (although it becomes a bit trickier once your son hits 2 years old and he may have to share his favorite dump truck or shovel). Some of our local parks have community sand toys, which helps take the hassle out of trying to corral all your toys when it is time to leave.

Take turns.
At every park, it always seems there are never enough swings, which means teaching our children about patience. For older children, it is perfectly OK to say in a loud voice to your child, “You have to wait just a few more minutes until he or she is done,” and hope the parent or caregiver catches the hint and prompts the child to move on. In our family, if someone is waiting we institute the “four push” rule. We give four more pushes and then give up the swing for someone else, which helps make for a smoother transition for everyone. Aside from the swings, another popular place at the park always seems to be the slide. Teach your child to go down the slide and then go around and climb back up instead of crawling back up the slide. There is nothing more frustrating than watching a child at the top of the slide waiting to go down while other children are trying to climb back up. Not only is this dangerous, but it is not fair to those waiting patiently at the top.

Find age-appropriate parks
. If you have a toddler, look for a park that caters to the younger set, like Cow Hollow Playground where the structures are much smaller. For school-age children, Julius Kahn Park is a good bet. Moscone Park is a neighborhood favorite because it has separate areas for toddlers and older children. At a park like this, the challenge comes when your toddler wants to do what the older children are doing or when older children run wild in the toddler area – always keep an eye out.

The park is also a great place to help your older ones become great problem solvers. By teaching our children to use their words to express themselves, they do not always have to rely on you to solve the problem. Help them learn how to say, “It’s my turn,” “Can I play with those toys?” and “Can I have a turn when you are done?”

Most important, have fun! The park is so much more enjoyable when we remember to be respectful of each other. And remember, parents, we only have a few short years of playing with our children at the park, so engage and enjoy.

Liz Farrell lives in San Francisco and is the mother of two young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. E-mail: