An indoor playground is a place where both you and your child can let off some steam—provided, of course, you know what to do when conflicts flare up. To really figure out the ins and outs of indoor-playground etiquette, we first had to learn what parents have the most trouble dealing with. We began our research by gathering some frequently asked questions from parenting groups on Facebook. We asked these moms and dads for their own tips and tricks before taking their questions to two experts—one a playground owner, the other an assistant manager—and getting their opinion on what actually works. Their advice boils down to what we all learned in kindergarten, including such tried-and-true lessons as “sharing is caring” and “keep your hands to yourself.” Many parents use trips to the indoor playground as gifts for kids who already have too many toys at home, so the key is encouraging children to think of it as a communal space rather than their own personal playground. Always Be Prepared Many parents shared a long list of things to bring: wipes, hand sanitizer, snacks, and treats. However, parents of multiples were a little more bare-bones in their approach. Said one mother of four, “With my first kid, I brought all that stuff. Now [all I bring is] a spray bottle of sanitizer to hose him down before getting into my car.” Jessica Roubitchek, owner of Chicago’s Purple Monkey Playroom (pictured in the photos), has a few more suggestions: shoes that come on and off easily, clothes that are OK to get wrecked, and an extra pair of socks. “It’s always a good idea to keep a pair of your [own] socks in the diaper bag, too,” she said. Roubitchek and our Facebook parents agreed that the most important thing to bring is an extra set of clothes. Even when they’re potty-trained, kids can get distracted when they play. “And that’s when accidents happen,” Roubitchek warned. “We’ve had situations where we needed to lend a kid a costume to go home in.” Show Your Kid How to Get the Most Out of Sharing Imagine your child slowly climbing up the ramp to a slide, allowing a long line to form behind him. It’s only polite to teach your child not to dilly-dally, but it’s also difficult when young ones have yet to learn empathy. Daniel Katz, the assistant manager of Chicago’s Kid’s Island, suggested a little bit of harmless manipulation. The trick is to show your kid how he stands to benefit from being polite. The faster he climbs up that side, after all, the faster his next turn will come up. Katz framed this in a way that might get through to your child: “Helping others is also helping yourself.” Be Extra Polite Around Other Kids and Parents Dealing with conflicts between kids or parents is a sticky situation. What happens if someone’s child is being too rough? What about that one little girl who’s only interested in what other kids are playing with? And what if the parents aren’t paying any attention to their little horror show? Many Facebook moms and dads advocated not saying anything and simply redirecting your child to a different part of the playground. When we asked Roubitchek, she suggested coming down to the other child’s level and using a nonthreatening tone. “Sweetie,” she advised saying to a pushy child, “you need to wait your turn. Where’s your mom or dad?” Katz offered a slightly different approach: simply ask the offending child in a neutral tone, “Why are you doing that, Matthew?” Usually, parents’ ears will perk up when they hear their own child’s name. In any case, parents can be sensitive, so it’s always best to approach a situation in a polite and nonjudgmental way. Keep Your Hands to Yourself When two kids really get into it, intervention is the best strategy for toddlers and younger children. “At this age,” explained Roubitchek, “you want to avoid [it escalating to] hitting or pushing. … They need a lot of guidance, so it’s OK to gently direct the way the situation should play out.” Older kids, however, should probably learn how to work it out on their own. As one Facebook mom succinctly put it, “Kids need to learn how to deal with assholes. … It’s really hard not to leap to your child’s defense, but it’s important to let kids figure these things out themselves.” Of course, if you encounter a child that’s too disruptive or a parent that’s too hands-off, notify the staff. Part of their job, Katz said, is to stay on top of these situations. Clean Up After Your Kid During playtime, the staff is usually around to clean up the smaller messes. But if your child pulls all the costumes off the hooks or spills dolls all over the slide, you might want to help or gently nudge your child to put them back. Helping keep things neat extends to your own things, too—especially your stroller. “Not only does [folding up your stroller] make more space and less chaos,” Roubitchek said, “it prevents the safety hazard of kids climbing into open strollers.” Try to Relax a Little We’ll let one Facebook mom sum it up: “Bring a friend and some coffee. Let your children roam. Every parent is there for the same reason: to catch a break.” Photos by Stephanie Anderson, Groupon
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