Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Playground Wrangling: Tips for Handling Two Toddlers Heading in Opposite Directions {Carnival of Natural Parenting}

Welcome to the September 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Staying Safe
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and tips about protecting our families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Oh, the playground.

Or as I sometimes like to call it, the Zone of Death.

There are very few "safe" playgrounds for busy little toddlers. After all, they really just like to find a soft spot in the dirt, no matter where that may be, and get as dirty as possible. They might go down the slide a few times, or climb some steps, but really, I think it's more about the exploration of this big ol' world and the sense of freedom they get from the large, open spaces in parks and backyards.

Going to the park before kids was one of the most relaxing outings. Spread a blanket, sip a drink, and open a book to while away a few hours while lounging under the clouds. Ha! Those were the days! Parks are now an iffy scenario for me and taking these two little busy bees definitely intimidated me at first. How was I supposed to keep and eye on two sets of feet often running in opposite directions? But we have two awesome parks within walking distance and my girls LOVE going there, so we have to make it work!

I also didn't want to be that mom: be careful! slow down! don't do that! Put down that pinecone! Don't get dirty! Share! Not fun for anyone.

These are a few loose guidelines that we use that seem to work:

- If I take them by myself and we take the car, I do a quick drive by. If we walk, I scope it out first from afar. If there are bigger kids on the playground (say, it's been overrun by teenagers after school), we don't stop at that particular park. It's just not fair to try and help 2 year olds navigate around rowdy 15 year olds.

- My role is their "assistant," to put it in Dr. Laura Markham's words. I let the girls take the lead, try to let as much child-directed play happen, and be there to assist and affirm if needed. I try and let them experience that sense of, wow, I did it! whether it's going down the slide backwards or swinging off the structure handlebars. The looks of joy on their faces is priceless! If things are going well, I keep at a short distance. When they look over for affirmation, I smile and wave but stay put. The playground has to work for you, too!

- That said, I set a boundary very early on: I don't help them up the biggest parts of the structure, any high ladders, or on the monkey bars. It's just not wise for me to get into a situation where two little children are hanging from high bars with only me to support them/catch them. If one runs off but one is still hanging, I'm in a pickle. So they know and I know that this is how the park happens with Mommy. If Andy comes with us, he might help them on an "adventure," but when it is just us and they ask, I say, "Oh, we can do that when Daddy comes with us," and they usually laugh, nod, and run off.

- I also try to be very clear about what they CAN do and limit my "No." If there are more than two or three bigger kids playing, I don't want them climbing up to the bigger slide and possibly getting pushed around out of my reach. So I tell them, "There are big kids here, so it's their turn on the slides today. You can stay on this side and play on these slides and I'll watch you."

If that doesn't work, I give them two choices, "Do you see all the big kids? It's their turn on the big slide today. Do you want to play on the other slides or go on the swings?" It's definitely hard for a little one to understand why they can't do a certain thing in such a fun place, so I do try to empathize and get their participation in decision making. If I can come up with two choices, they'll usually be content with choosing one of those options.

- I let them wander (within sight), and give them the option of all of us together leaving the playground to go play in the grass, walk the paths, or whatever has caught their fancy that day. Just because we've come to the park doesn't mean they MUST play on the playground! Sometimes they're more interested in a pile of dead leaves than the slide. That's OK.

- The one I struggle with most: preparedness. Extra diapers and wipes, because someone will inevitably poop if I forget. I also pack a special snack and lots of water. Or sometimes we make it out of the house with only one water bottle - it happens! If all the starts align, I bring a small picnic blanket. Big IF, though.

- About 15 minutes before we leave, I give them a heads up. They usually still have a difficult time leaving, but sometimes if I preface the departure with a couple reminders that we'll be leaving soon, their meltdowns don't last quite as long. But sometimes they come to me and say, "Ready Home," and that's our cue that they're ready to go home. It's dang cute.

- What I haven't figured out: how to get Afton to stop screaming "mine!" or "my turn! my turn!" when another kid tries to go down the slide. She's a tad territorial of her slides and I know it's a phase, but it is kind of embarassing. Right now I just repeat, "We take turns on the slide. It's his/her turn. Your turn is next," over and over and OVER. Or offer another option, like going to the swings or the other set of slides. I'm sure the parents think I'm nuts. Tips are appreciated.

Setting these few loose guidelines have made our outings to the park an actually enjoyable experience, less stressful, rather than a game of chase that leaves me breathless and stressed. I also believe it keeps all of us safer. Oh sure, sometimes it ends up just a bad day, but for the most part, it's been more fun than I thought it could be!

How do you handle the playground chaos with your kiddos?

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon September 10 with all the carnival links.)
  • Stranger Danger — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares her approach to the topic of "strangers" and why she prefers to avoid that word, instead opting to help her 4-year-old understand what sorts of contact with adults is appropriate and whom to seek help from should she ever need it.
  • We are the FDA — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger makes the case that when it comes to food and drugs, parents are necessarily both their kids' best proponent of healthy eating and defense against unsafe products.
  • You Can't Baby Proof Mother Nature — Nicole Lauren at Mama Mermaid shares how she tackles the challenges of safety when teaching her toddler about the outdoors.
  • Bike Safety With Kids — Christy at Eco Journey In the Burbs shares her tips for safe cycling with children in a guest post at Natural Parents Network.
  • Spidey Sense — Maud at Awfully Chipper used a playground visit gone awry to teach her children about trusting their instincts.
  • Watersustainablemum explains how she has used her love of canoeing to enable her children to be confident around water
  • Safety without baby proofing — Hannabert at Hannahandhorn talks about teaching safety rather than babyproofing.
  • Coming of Age: The Safety Net of Secure AttatchmentGentle Mama Moon reflects on her own experiences of entering young adulthood and in particular the risks that many young women/girls take as turbulent hormones coincide with insecurities and for some, loneliness — a deep longing for connection.
  • Mistakes You Might Be Makings With Car Seats — Car seats are complex, and Brittany at The Pistachio Project shares ways we might be using them improperly.
  • Could your child strangle on your window blinds? — One U.S. child a month strangles to death on a window blind cord — and it's not always the obvious cords that are the danger. Lauren at Hobo Mama sends a strong message to get rid of corded blinds, and take steps to keep your children safe.
  • Tips to Help Parents Quit Smoking (and Stay Quit) — Creating a safe, smoke-free home not only gives children a healthier childhood, it also helps them make healthier choices later in life, too. Dionna at Code Name: Mama (an ex-smoker herself) offers tips to parents struggling to quit smoking, and she'll be happy to be a source of support for anyone who needs it.
  • Gradually Expanding Range — Becca at The Earthling's Handbook explains how she is increasing the area in which her child can walk alone, a little bit at a time.
  • Safety Sense and Self Confidence — Do you hover? Are you overprotective? Erica at ChildOrganics discusses trusting your child's safety sense and how this helps your child develop self-confidence.
  • Staying Safe With Food Allergies and Intolerances — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is sharing how she taught her son about staying safe when it came to his food allergies.
  • Don't Touch That Baby!Crunchy Con Mom offers her 3 best tips for preventing unwanted touching of your baby.
  • Playground Wrangling: Handling Two Toddlers Heading in Opposite Directions — Megan at the Boho Mama shares her experience with keeping two busy toddlers safe on the playground (AKA, the Zone of Death) while also keeping her sanity.
  • Letting Go of "No" and Taking Chances — Mommy at Playing for Peace tries to accept the bumps, bruises and tears that come from letting her active and curious one-year-old explore the world and take chances.
  • Preventing Choking in Babies and Toddlers with Older Siblings — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now gives tips on preventing choking in babies and toddlers along with Montessori-inspired tips for preventing choking in babies and toddlers who have older siblings working with small objects.
  • Keeping Our Children Safe: A Community and National Priority — September has many days and weeks dedicated to issues of safety; however, none stir the emotions as does Patriot Day which honors those slain the terrorist attacks. Along with honoring the victims, safety officals want parents to be ready in the event of another disaster whether caused by terrorists or nature. Here are their top tips from Mary at Mary-andering Creatively.
  • A Complete Family: Merging Pets and Offspring — Ana at Panda & Ananaso shares the ground rules that she laid out for herself, her big brown dog, and later her baby to ensure a happy, safe, and complete family.
  • Be Brave — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about helping her kids learn to be brave so that they can stay safe, even when she's not around.
  • Catchy PhrasingMomma Jorje just shares one quick tip for helping kids learn about safety. She assures there are examples provided.
  • Know Your Kid — Alisha at Cinnamon&Sassfras refutes the idea that children are unpredictable.
  • Surprising car seat myths — Choosing a car seat is a big, important decision with lots of variables. But there are some ways to simplify it and make sure you have made the safest choice for your family. Megan at Mama Seeds shares how, plus some surprising myths that changed her approach to cars eats completely!
  • I Never Tell My Kids To Be Careful — Kim is Raising Babes, Naturally, by staying present and avoiding the phrase "be careful!"


  1. We also had two playgrounds within walking distance that frequently had teenagers around. Unfortuately, a drive by/walk by wasn't feasible with our toddler as once he saw the park, it was all or nothing...Your "rules" work well for us. We provide oversight without too many restrictions but reminders of taking turns or waiting for us on some of the more challenging equipment.

    1. There have been a few times where they saw it and got so excited, so we definitely have to follow through if that happens. Thinking of investing in a pair of binoculars ;)

  2. You mamas of twins amaze me. (Also, daycare leaders. Gah!) One thing I am finding difficult with my toddler is that she wants to run around after big brother, and often he is doing something she is not developmentally ready to do. It's so hard to allow him freedom to play, and also finding ways to engage her without her having hurt feelings. (Normally, though, he's pretty aware of her; I'm quite lucky that he is careful to include her!)

    1. We only have this problem in a minor way; one of my girls is much more agile than the other. But that would be a challenge! It's good he's considerate of her! :)

  3. Thought I'd stop by with some Carnival love :) I love your post - I've often wondered how parents of multiples do it at parks and such - I find it hard enough with an older boy and toddler daughter to keep track of them!

    I really appreciate your positive discipline and avoiding "No's" and "Be Careful's" as much as you can - it definitely makes for a happier family!

    I wrote about a similar approach in my Carnival post if you have the time to stop by: http://raisingbabesnaturally.blogspot.com/2013/09/i-never-tell-my-kids-to-be-careful.html

    Nice to "meet" you!

  4. Your comment about someone pooping if you've forgotten wipes had me laughing. I keep thinking, as Alrik's nearing potty independence, "Oh, I don't have to bring the diaper bag this once." Ha! He's got impeccable poo-timing. These are great tips — thanks!

  5. Great tips! I never had two toddlers at one time, but I used a number of similar rules with each of my kids when they were toddlers. It definitely helps when they're given lots of freedom along with a few rules for safety. I pinned your post to my Toddlers - Activities and Ideas Board at http://pinterest.com/debchitwood/toddlers-activities-and-ideas/ :)

  6. Excellent playground tips! We have issues 9/10 times at the playground. I'm going to have to employ some of these, especially the headsup before leaving and allowing for some non-helicopter wandering (I'm bad... but I'm usually there with just him and don't want to be "cell phone mom on the bench" lol).

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. I can't imagine keeping up with two - trying to support and keep up with each going in their own direction.
    Our park doesn't have many teenagers, but even five year olds engage at such a different level of play than my one year old. My daughter loves to hang out with the big kids and some times they love it too, but some times they don't.
    I love the way you describe giving choices and affirming the positives and choices of things they CAN do.

  8. Great tips! These are good things to do with only one toddler, too. I have never had to follow two toddlers around but my issue is keeping an eye on a toddler when I have two other kids going off in different directions because they are different developmental levels and take risks in an age appropriate way. Our local playground stresses me out because of all the blind corners and trying to keep an eye on everyone without limiting them in what they are capable of doing. Then I have the youngest wanting to copy the older ones and wanting to take great risks. I should keep in mind some of your phrases. Thanks!


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