Have you ever had a situation in a public playground where your child is trying to play on something and there’s not much sharing going on? Do you know how to handle it?

I took my three year old to a nearby playground. He was so excited because he loves playing on the wooden pirate boat. As soon as I opened the gate he ran over to the boat and found two girls standing at the helm and their mums chatting at the entrance.

I saw my little 95cm boy go up to the mums and he asked, “Can I have a turn next on the boat?” I saw the mums smile and nod their heads. He was smiling and walked off to play on other equipment. Ten minutes later he went back and asked a second time. This time the mums looked at him, looked at each other and then continued their conversation.

I had been watching my brave little 95cm boy asking a question of two adult women twice his height, and feeling a sense of pride that he had plucked up the courage to do so.

Now he came over to me in tears and said, “They won’t let me have a turn on the boat.”

My instinct was to say “They will sweetheart.”  It was in this moment that I realised the message I was sending to him was that it was ok not to share and that, if faced with a challenge, you just sit and hope it will pass.

The biggest realisation was that he was coming to me to ask for help after trying twice himself. I wanted him to know that he could always come to me if he needed to and that I would do what I can to help him. I realised that my actions needed to match my thoughts.

So I went up and asked if it was ok for my child to have a go. The reply was, “Of course!” They all played happily together. I felt empowered and we both had fun!

To feel empowered and have fun in the playground try out these steps:

1)     Be clear on intention. Ask yourself, “What is my intention here?” For me, my intention was to get my child a turn on the boat and to do this in a calm, relaxed and confident manner.

2)     Understand the context. If you are in a public playground, all children have equal rights to play with the equipment.

3)     Permission frame: Ask for permission “Is it ok if [insert child’s name] has a go on the boat?” This immediately breaks down the barriers of the person you are speaking with as you have given them a choice in how to respond.

4)     Limit either/or thinking. Thinking either he plays or they do can cause conflict unnecessarily.  Of course if it was a swing and only one person could play at a time, this would be a different story!  Encourage the children to play together so no-one misses out.

5)     Kick the mind reading. Starting an internal dialogue in your mind about the mums, such as “They wouldn’t like it if it were their child” can lead you onto a slippery slope.  It may lead you to feeling angry or defensive and into not approaching the situation with the best state of mind. The fact is you have no way of knowing what they are thinking. By dealing with the facts of the situation, in this case getting your child a turn, you are more likely to have your requests met and be left feeling powerful.

6)     Power of choice.  Ask yourself, “What can I do that is within my power and gives me choice?” For example, you can ask a question or permission from the parent? You can choose to be patient or you can choose to encourage your child to play on something else. By making and owning your choice you maintain your power.

7)     Encourage, trust and support. Let your child know he can rely on you. If he asks for your help, encourage him to help himself a couple of times and then step in.

How do you handle sharing in a public playground? What things have worked for you?

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  • Playgrounds are fraught. Good option and outcome to assist your son.


  • I think your brave becausevifvthey ignored my son I would got upset and taken him else where .. Good for you


  • I’m so bad at the internal dialog, it’s really something i have to work on. You must have been so proud of your son for asking like that though!


  • yeah these are great points. it is good when they play nicely with other children


  • This happens so often and you are right it is about empowering our children to ask for what they want


  • very true thank you this happens to often


  • This was a great read. Thanks for these ideas & strategies. I haven’t encountered difficulties yet, but you never know when you may need them.


  • A very informative article – thank you – very helpful!


  • Some good tips. I hate confrontation so I tend to make things bigger than they actually are. If I keep it real and employ these tactics I might not have to stress about it so much. thanks


  • Those are really great strategies.
    Great choices.


  • Thank you for this wonderful article and great tips. All the best of wishes to you and your beautiful courageous little man.


  • I cant say that I ever had a problem as I think most kids are pretty good.
    I dont live in a city though so that might have something to do with it.


  • I like the concilatory approach of this article, and the focus on teaching kids to share and behave appropriately but also not to stand up for themselves.

    My frustration at playgrounds is parents pushing kids on swings for over half an hour while others are waiting, and kids walking up the slides when others are trying to slide down the correct way!


  • Fortunately I’ve never had any real issues with parents at public playgrounds (touch wood)


  • This is a great story, you must be proud of your little man and thank you for some useful tips!


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