Hello!

I have a love/hate relationship with indoor playgrounds.

Living in Canberra, they are necessary during the long winter hibernation where temperatures are often single digit and accompanied by wind chill factors that don’t bear mentioning.

Whenever we arrive at an indoor playground, my son can barely believe his luck in life. He excitedly climbs, jumps around the ball pit and explores the cavernous netted mazes until he reaches the desired aim of being tired enough to go home for a day nap.

When he starts yawning, I feel like I have put him through the child equivalent of a hamster wheel but hey – he’s happy and I’m happy so everyone’s a winner.

Once the tired little man is all tucked up in his cot, it is then – and only then – that I can even begin to think of having a coffee and a rest. For while those indoor playground have cafes, I have barely indulged my need for caffeine there.

As much as I would love to take a relaxed approach, I am forced into helicopter parenting mode the whole time we are there.  I hover while monitoring his behaviour towards other children, intervening when he gets a bit too grabby and reminding him to share and be gentle with other children.

Mostly though, I hover to watch the behaviour and erratic actions of other children towards him.

At 19 months old, my son doesn’t really stack up against the might of a four-year old running on a collision course with him while their attention is fixed somewhere else. Likewise, he can’t do much defending when pushed off a toy or told to go away. I let most things slide though, allowing him to learn about life in a controlled way.

If I intervene, it is to ensure basic safety for both my son and those children who somehow interact with him on the playground.

Don’t hit, don’t punch, don’t slap etc. and be careful to watch where you’re running when there are babies and toddlers about. Fair enough, I think.

In my experience, the most difficult part of negotiating a playground hasn’t been the children but their parents.

There seems to be two main types of parents; the first being those who sit completely removed from their child and enjoy that cup of coffee, the one I have abstained from (not jealous). My theory is that they figure their child is old enough to look after themselves but, in reality, it also means their child is free to run riot.

One time I saw a child crouch down and wee on a play mat then run off. I looked around for the responsible parent but saw nobody launch up to fix the situation so I put some wet wipes over the puddle and informed the staff.

The second main group of parents are the ones that do intervene and pay attention. These can prove trickier because clashes can quickly ensue.

Like the time I overheard a man say to a five year-old “hey, you touch my son again and you’ll cop it!”. Every parent within earshot collectively gasped and the father of the scolded boy, now upset, ran up to the man and had a rather animated argument.

But the biggest run-in I’ve seen involved a mother who let several of her older children play on a baby jumping castle in the baby area. The kids ranged in age from around 8-14 years old and they were soon climbing the walls and kamikaze jumping onto each other, screaming all the way.

After five minutes of this, another mum said to the group that they’d had their fun and could they now please leave the baby area because it is designed for 0-4 year olds. Out of nowhere, the mum of the older kids ran up yelling: “How dare you tell my kids what to do! Nobody tells my kids what to do except me!”.

When the mum calmly held her ground and said the playground is clearly marked for babies, aggro mum didn’t back down: “I told them they could play in there, they can break the rules if I tell them it’s ok”.

And she didn’t stop with her children’s morality lesson there: “I told my kids they could play in there until a baby wanted a turn so what’s your problem?”.

Every fibre in my body was telling me not to engage but I couldn’t help it – I wanted to stand by this mum who had pointed out what I considered a fair boundary.

I piped up: “Well, my son would have loved to have played in there but it was way too intimidating”.

Aggro mum turned her sights on me: “Oh you’re one of those mums? One that cotton balls their kids? Well I’m here to tell you that life isn’t like that and your kids are in for a rude shock!”.

Thankfully, at this point she seemed to have gotten whatever it was out of her system and huffed off with her kids in trail. The experience left a mark on me though.

It is difficult balancing your own parenting style and beliefs against those of someone else but places like playgrounds force you to. What you may think is a perfectly reasonable request might enrage another parent.

I still hesitate before intervening but only out of a sense of wanting to give my son the space to learn necessary life lessons rather than because I fear the reactions of other parents. The world is a jungle gym out there and not everyone is going to be nice or reasonable, even adults.

Have you had a similar experience at an indoor playground? Do tell!

  • I have known for parents to rock up, dump their kids and sneak off to do the shopping :0 How can they leave their children?! I suppose it’s better at the ball park then locked in a car. But seriously……how do they do it?!?!

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  • Wow that’s some experiences. I haven’t come across any of those!

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  • Hate them, they are germ ridden nests, in theory they are great for children to play in a safe environment but unfortunately not everyone has the same level of hygiene and I have witnessed toddlers without nappies, toddlers with bottles, so I do not like to see little children playing in them as everything goes in their mouths and they all suck on everything in the playgrounds.

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  • i know that people lose a lot of stuff in there lol

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  • Yeah I don’t like the ball pits they are dirty. How often would they get clean yuk. Kids in them. Once saw a kid take off his dirty nappy they closed it down to clean but never really get clean probably.

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  • Sounds like a “feral” Mum who doesn’t care what her kids damage or who they hurt.

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  • Stopped taking my kids to these ball pits as my friends children who worked there told us that they find soiled nappies and lots of band-aides in the ball pit. Hundreds of odd socks and dummies and drink bottles and cups….. yuck… A play in our parks out in the sun or rain is much healthier.

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  • I can relate to the “helicopter” mode lol, and no laid back approach for me, sometimes though I’ve had to leave when it’s the parent who act like 2 year olds and not the kids.

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  • Interesting article thanks for sharing.

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  • I love your style. Thankfully I am past this stage now, but I remember these days clearly. I recall one day a group of mums sat around talking while their kids were climbing up the slide – despite the sign saying don’t climb up the slide. As my children sat up top waiting to come down, I tried the loud talking (just wait for these kids to get off so you don’t hurt them). When nothing worked, I went up myself and started to barrel down with my kids – which finally resulted in the mums yelling at their kids to get off so they wouldn’t get hurt!

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  • My kids always seemed to pick up a tummy bug whenever they went to an indoor ball pit playground.

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  • Some people are so rude. Their poor children.n

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  • Goodness… Sounds tense! I would avoid any over-crowded playgrounds for both in- and outdoors.

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  • An interesting read thanks for sharing

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  • Good on you. It can scary confronting other parents.

    Reply

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