6 Rules of Playground Etiquette That Every Mom Needs to Know

Your child has never met a swing he didn’t like. But that’s where the awkwardness can set in: What do you do if you’re in line behind a swing hog or, worse, worried you might be the swing hog? To help us troubleshoot, we asked Daniel Post Senning, great-great grandson of Emily Post and co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 19th edition, to weigh in on how to handle a variety of playground-related social quandaries.

Try This Game-Changing Trick to Get Your Kid to Leave the Playground

mom with daughter on swings
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Rule 1: Communicate About Swing Needs

Whether you’ve been waiting for what seems like eons or your kid is holding up the line, according to Senning, this is a rich opportunity to teach your child a valuable lesson about sharing and taking turns. “As a parent, it’s all about modeling good behavior,” he says. “You can explain to them: ‘If you were waiting, you’d want others to offer you a chance to swing, too’ or ‘We’re going to patiently wait for our turn—it’s coming up soon.’” (You can also say the latter loud enough for other parents to hear.) But should you impose a time limit? Senning says that’s up to you. “Etiquette also comes down to whatever feels right and fair in the moment,” he explains. That said, it’s also OK to speak up if you’re feeling uncomfortable. “A lot of times, it’s as simple as saying, ‘Hey! We just got here ahead of you, but we’ll hop off in five minutes. Thanks for waiting!’”

kids in sandbox
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Rule 2: Mediate (sometimes) When A Toy Gets Taken

In this case, it’s age-dependent: If your child is little, you should definitely step in to help. But if they’re a bit older—say, five-plus—they should be able to resolve non-physical conflict on their own. If you are going to step in, “Gently explain that your child was playing with said toy first and will give the other child a turn soon.” If the other parent wasn't present for the initial incident, avoid the temptation to blame things on your kid (or worse, theirs). “Try, ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to start a meltdown, but this is what happened.’ You want to give context so they can better understand the action you took.” And worst-case scenario, if the child runs off with the toy, remember that it’s not your job to discipline someone else’s kid or get it back. “Instead, help your child process their feelings and move on,” Senning says.

kid on monkey bars
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Rule 3: If A Child’s Safety Is At Stake, Intervene

Safety takes precedence every single time, Senning explains. “If you see a kid in danger and no parent to call on, it’s completely OK to step in.” But there are also caveats to that rule. “There’s a danger scale, so personal reflection is required if another parent is around,” Senning adds. In other words, every parent knows their own kid. They might be a highly-coordinated daredevil who has total permission to go on that kinda scary-looking big kid slide. “You can always do a scan to make sure you see someone who’s responsible for the situation nearby. But if they seem distracted and a child is about to get hurt, you have more latitude when it comes to approaching a kid.” (Try saying, “Is your mom/dad OK with you doing that?”)

mom on phone at park
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Rule 4: Don’t Judge Phone Use, But Intervene When Necessary

“It’s a reasonable thing to alert a distracted parent to the fact that their kid just slipped out the playground door,” according to Senning. Still, it’s the spirit and tone that matters most. “You don’t want to say, ‘Hey, get your head out of your phone!’ It’s more, ‘In case this isn’t on your radar, X just happened.”

dad on slide with kid
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Rule 5: It’s Not Your Job To Reprimand Pressure-y Parents

We’ve all encountered parents who—for better or worse—can’t stop challenging their kids to push themselves beyond their ability, sometimes in a bullying manner. Bottom line, Senning says, you can’t step in. “Critical feedback is never OK.” Instead, use the moment to self-reflect. “Etiquette is most powerful when you use it as a tool for self-improvement versus being judgy. Ask yourself: ‘Am I all fired up because the action that parent is taking strikes a little too close to home?’ or ‘How am I doing as a parent when it comes to that behavior?’ Even if you can’t intervene, it can be a helpful gut check.” (Of course, if safety is a concern, that’s a different matter.)

mom with baby on swings
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Rule 6: Speak Up If Another Kid Pushes Or Hits

“Approach the other parent and alert them to the situation,” Senning says, and think about what you’d do if the roles were reversed. “Remember, the shoe will always be on the other foot." Additionally, your job isn't to tell the caregiver what to do or how to fix it. It's simply about alerting them to the situation. Try, “I wanted to talk to you for a second because there’s something that just happened that concerned me.” As for how to explain the situation to your child? Explain that the other kid is still learning, and one moment of aggression doesn't mean they can't be friends. We're all in this together, after all. 

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