It’s a rule. You hear it endlessly repeated at every playground:
“We don’t climb up the slide. We go around and use the steps.”
I say it, too. But just like everyone else who has a kid older than crawling-up-stairs age, I finally accepted the fact that children want to climb up slides. They will climb up the slide the very moment your back is turned. They will do it quickly and giggle gleefully the whole way down after you’ve caught them and repeated the rule.
The other thing I’ve accepted is this: It’s good to climb up the slide sometimes. That’s right, I said it was good, not just ok. Kids do it for a reason. It’s a challenge for them, it’s fun, and just like climbing ladders or going up ramps or biking uphill, it’s good for their little leg muscles.
And so I’ll say it again. It’s good to climb up the slide sometimes. It’s that key word sometimes that parents -and, admittedly, many teachers – don’t want to bother with.
Flash back with me now to the beginning of this summer. I was at a park with my two boys, and this mom was there with three girls, one of whom was her toddler and the older two (elementary-school age) were not. I sympathized with her immediately, because it is a bit difficult to jump into parenting kids at an older age than your own if you’re not used to it. But one of the girls started dropping woodchips from the top of the play structure through a hole down underneath. The mom-of-a-toddler immediately told her that “we don’t throw woodchips.” I’m sure she’d had to say it to her own daughter something like 5,239 times, so it came off very naturally.
The girl looked at her, surprised, and said, “I’m not throwing them. I’m dropping them.”
The mom, only flustered momentarily, replied, “Well, we don’t drop them, either. Someone could be underneath there and get hit in the face.”
The girl looked confused as she peered below. “But there’s no one under there.”
The mom looked determined to carry the argument. “Well, we don’t do it EVER. Just in case.”
The girl said nothing, but as soon as the mom looked away, she started doing it again, which prompted their exit from the park since she “couldn’t follow the rules.”
Boy, did I sympathize with that girl. It was plain as day that the rule made no sense to her. Rules that have no exceptions are incredibly rare. It’s true that we need rules and often have to stick with them no matter what for our own sanity or because some children with special needs have to have that kind of structure. But for most kids, following a rule with no exception for common sense makes the world black and white, with adults the ones who determine the color. It takes away opportunities to think, reason, and come to intelligent conclusions.
I understand that babies and toddlers can’t do these things all that well. So, “We don’t throw woodchips,” is perfectly valid for a one-year-old. It is incredibly difficult to get them to understand that it’s ok if no one’s around and it’s not windy, but not ok all of the rest of the time. Plus, let’s face it, we mostly sound like the Charlie Brown adults to them, so it’s best to keep it simple.
But the older they get, the more we have to allow them to see the gray areas of everything, including those rules that used to be hard and fast. Yes, it makes for more negotiation, argument, and often frustration. So we pick our battles and our rules that are non-negotiable but we think through the rest with our kids.
Flashing back to yesterday, I was at the park around the corner. No one else was there except another mom-of-a-toddler with her 13-month-old. I was helping Theo shovel woodchips into a bucket (parks = the new beach) when I looked over and saw this:
Me: Sebastian, is it ok to climb up the slide now?
SP (looking around): Yes.
Me: Right, because no one else is using the slide. What happens if another kid comes to play on the slide?
SP: I have to go around.
Me: Right. (turning back to Theo)
Toddler Mom next to me: ::judgmental look::
I spent the next ten minutes keeping Theo from eating the woodchips (a rule I do enforce all the time) and wondering whether I imagined the look. But no, I did not, for ten minutes later, when her son tried to climb up the small slide that no one else was anywhere near, I heard:
Toddler Mom: We don’t climb up slides, Z. We go around.
Ah, well. I see in shades of gray, Toddler Mom. I hope when your kid gets older, you will, too. For his sake, yes, and for people everywhere who appreciate it if we raise children who know how to think for themselves and use some common sense.
Postscript: For the record, he didn’t argue at all when other kids came and he had to use the steps. But I also admit that he apparently had to be reminded of the no climbing the slide rule at school this summer, which I’m sure scarred him for life because he still talks about it. So let that be a lesson that no parenting philosophy is perfect!