5 Ways to Stay Zen at the Playground

Keep calm and play on.

As the mother of a young child, I spend a significant amount of time at the local playground. Like most kids, my four-year-old loves to play on the swings and play structures, and she begs me to take her almost every weekend. And, for the most part, I am happy to oblige. The park is a wonderful source of free, outdoor entertainment, and I love watching my daughter run wild and play with the other children. What’s not to like, right?

Well, I would be lying if I said that I enjoy the playground as much as she does. While I cherish the time I spend there with her, the reality is that for parents, going to the playground can be stressful, and a true exercise in patience. There’s your child’s safety to think about (Will she fall off that climbing structure? Will she slip running on the wooden bridge?), and wherever children play together, there is bound to be shouting and fighting. Then there are the other parents, who can be lovely, or not so much. Altogether, sometimes it can be a little difficult to maintain a Zen state.

But because I want my daughter to grow up with happy memories of us playing together at the park, rather than memories of mommy getting a migraine, I’ve spent the last few years trying to figure out how to enjoy our playground time without getting stressed. It hasn’t always been easy, but I think I’ve found a few tried-and-true practices that work.

Here are five easy steps for staying Zen at the playground, which I’ve incorporated into my own life:

  1. Enjoy a drink before you head over. Something light maybe, like a beer, or a glass of white wine. Haha, just kidding. (Or am I?)
  1. Pick the right time of day for you and your family. This really comes down to the temperaments of you and your child, and what you’re looking to get out of your visit. Hoping to play one-on-one with your kiddo in more calm surroundings? Head over early in the morning, before the park gets too busy. Enjoy chatting with other parents and interacting with families from the neighborhood? Visit in the late morning and afternoon, when the playground is sure to be bustling.
  1. Agree to disagree with other parents. The playground is a great big melting pot of parenting styles, and where I live, there are just as many parents on the play structures as there are children. Whether you want to call it “helicopter parenting” or just being careful, so many of us not only follow behind our children at the playground to physically protect them, we also feel the responsibility to help them navigate socially. When I was a kid in the ‘80s, an argument at the playground was between me and the other child. These days, it’s usually the parents who battle it out. Rather than arguing over which child started it and who is in the right, agree to disagree, and try to let it go. It’s just not worth it, especially when you know your mini is watching you and learning from your interactions.
  1. Worry about your own kid. If I see a child who is about to get hurt, or seems lost, I of course help them, but overall I try to keep my eyes and ears on my own kid. There are always those children who appear to be playing completely unmonitored, and sometimes this intrudes on my playtime with my daughter. Sometimes the kids are vandalizing the play structure, and other times older children may be playing on equipment intended for young children, making it unsafe for the little ones to play. When my daughter and I first started going to the playground, I would speak up and try to stop them. Now I simply focus on my daughter. It’s less stressful that way, and I avoid confrontations with potentially hostile parents.
  1. Be prepared to pick up and go if the vibe is not right. Maybe the playground is too crowded, or the aforementioned rowdy kids won’t leave the area where you and your little one are playing. Whatever the reason, be kind to yourself. If you’re not feeling it, relocate to another part of the playground, or come back another day. The most important thing is that you and your little one enjoy your time together, no matter where you are.

Good luck, mamas and papas—have fun out there!

Photo by Ali Kaukas

Ariana Brookes-1Ariana Brookes is a San Francisco-based copywriter who’s trying to be a cool mom but still, you know, legit. She loves old-school hip hop, 19th-century literature, tattoos, manicures, yoga, running, travel, and true-crime, and could happily eat Mexican food every day. You can read more of her work on her blog, notahipstermom, where she writes about her adventures in modern parenting, and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.