Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Parenting on the Playground

Have you ever been with your kids at the park, the pool, etc and a strange kid comes up and takes one of their toys to play with? What do you do? Do you tell your child to share, thus validating the rudeness of the other child? Do you take the toy away from the little interloper, gently explaining the rudeness of grabbing a stranger's things without asking? Do you try to gather more information- find out whether the other child had a parent around, what their situation is, what could be motivating the toy takeover, etc.? When should your child's need to learn to share supersede their need to learn polite behavior and the boundaries of personal property?

 This one is a bit sticky for me. As mommies, we want our kids to get along- to be socially accepted in their circle of friends, and not regarded as an undisciplined, selfish rugrat. We don't want our child to be the one that takes away from other kids or the one who obviously has no clue what sharing is. But I don't think it's right to ask our kids to surrender their property to any stranger that takes it in the name of sharing. If they are hosting a birthday party or a play date, then yes, their duties as host mandate their giving their guests some toy choosing privileges. (Though it's also important that they be able to keep some toys from public purview) If they are a guest themselves, and the host wants a toy, they should recognize the right of ownership and graciously defer to the toy's owner. Those are easy-it's what to do with the stranger on the playground or the fellow playgroup guest that is more complex. My first thought: our kids watch how we treat others, not just them, and they can see if there are double standards for what we teach them is polite and what we allow in their playmates. Would I let my child run up and grab a toy without first politely asking to join the game or asking for a turn with the toy? Would I let my child throw a fit if the request for voluntary sharing was refused? Um, no. :) So why should I teach them that that's ok in other kids; that they cannot themselves be rude but they must still defer to those who are? Also, I don't want to teach my kids that their property rights don't matter, or that they have to share with anyone who asks. I still find myself doing it without even thinking sometimes, though- telling my kid to share with a complete stranger who grabbed their toy at the pool, for example. Then I stop, and tell my child- ” hey- if you want to play with that other child, fine. Share sweetly. If you don't, then politely ask for your toy back. If the child refuses to return it, come get me, your mom. Bringing a toy to a public place does not make it public property, though if you do bring it here you may have to deal with kids who have no concept of personal property. :)

 I wonder why we, as mommies, are so conditioned to advocate niceness at the expense of other virtues in our children, and to make them ” get along” with other kids no matter the truth of the situation? Having the negotiation skills to compromise and avoid conflict is a good thing, but having the ability to insist on fair play and not tolerate invasion of personal boundaries of self or property (or the self or property of others) is good too. I sometimes think: I'm raising my kids in a world where civil liberties are not a given, and need protecting; how can I expect them to stand up for honor and justice when I teach them to always yield to another in the name of avoiding conflict and being nice, regardless of the right or wrong or rudeness involved? Now, to balance that- sometimes my children will come in contact with other children who may have no clue how to behave properly, but who may need my child to overlook that misbehavior in order to show the love of Jesus to that other child, to witness to that other child, or to help a child who is in need of something they can give.

Here's my take- I want to teach my children Honor and Justice and Mercy; to be givers, not takers, and to understand and respect boundaries, both their own and those of others. My kids do not have to share with strangers if they don't want to. Their toys are their own, and the decision to share them should be theirs as well. I will encourage my children to learn to look beyond the surface of the situation, and evaluate the other child. Do they have toys of their own to play with? Do they seem otherwise kind and respectful of other property, like the playground equipment? They may be simply ignorant of the protocol for toy borrowing. They may just need a friend. If this is the case, I'd encourage my child to invite them into their play, though I would not require it. If, on the other hand, the other child has other play options but insists on grabbing from others instead of playing with what is available, I would not encourage my child to share with them, and if the other child refused a polite request to return the toy in question I would step in. If the other child grabbed a toy out of my child's hands, I would have them ask for it back, and then gently but firmly take it back if their request was refused. I'd step in then, too, if I needed to. I don't think that allowing another child to come up and grab something my child is holding with impunity sets a good precedent for personal boundaries.

 I do not, however, want my children to be selfish. Honor knows no improper self-interest. If they are playing with a toy at a playdate, for example, and another child wants it, negotiating a system of turn-taking is entirely appropriate, as is simply saying that no, I'm playing now, but I'd be glad to give it to you when I'm done. I also want my children to stand up for the weak, the small, or those being taken advantage of. I will never punish my children for coming to the rescue of another child. I want my children to have a keen sense of justice, and to care more for justice being done than for whether or not they get to keep a certain toy. (Yeah.... we're not there yet. Mr. 6-yr-old shows glimmers, but we're not there yet.  =) )

I don't want my children to blindly either share or keep their toys close to home- I want them to make informed decisions based on what is just and appropriate and kind in a situation, and then be able to defend those decisions. I want them to be free to share with another child, even one who is being rude and mean, in order to show love to them; but, I want that to be an intentional choice and not a default setting. My children must be able to defend their liberties and rights and those of others if we are to keep our American freedoms for the next generation; they must know that to defend their rights and those of others is honorable and good. They must also know that they are here to serve a loving God, and to show love, grace, and wisdom to those He puts in their path. I want my children to know liberty and responsibility, grace, mercy, and the rule of law, to be both warriors and lovers, fighters and peacemakers.

With children, dear, very fallible children, ranging from 6 years to 6 months, my husband and I are very far from achieving those goals with them. Very, very far. =) But these are our goals, and the more I can keep them in mind the better I like my day-to-day parenting.


  1. I'm glad you shared this, Mary. It really is something that I haven't had to think about in many years, but now that I find myself "back in the game," so to speak, it is much more relevant. :)