Friday, April 22, 2011

Playground Ettiquette

Over the last couple of days, I've taken the boys on a wagon ride down the block to a playground behind a local elementary school. It's a cute little playground with primary positives factors of its location (close to home) and small, fenced-in play area that encourages two small children to stay in reasonable proximity to each other. So, it's darn close to the ideal place to take two children when you're by yourself.

Since the weather has been reasonable over the last couple of days, the playground has been relatively crowded. The kids have been slightly older than The Boy, which has not deter him in the slightest. He gets very excited when he sees the playground, yelling out, "Hi, friends!" repeatedly as he gets closer. The cutest thing? He goes up to every kid, one at a time, and says, "Hi!" He also might try to shake their hand, which is something that he sees me do quite often.

The other kids don't quite know what to make of The Boy. They don't necessarily want to play with a smaller boy, but most aren't rude to him. For the most part, they just ignore him as much as they can. The other kids are usually fairly careful about running around the playground when there are smaller kids around - neither of my boys has been knocked over very often, and when they have, the other kid has inevitably helped him up and apologized.

Bring ignored doesn't stop The Boy, who is bound and determined to treat every kid as if they are his friend. He will try to join in the older kids' games. Yesterday was a perfect example: a frantic game of freeze tag was in effect, and kids were sprinting around, laughing, and being wonderfully crazy. The Boy just joined in the game action by running around, laughing, and yelling, even though the older kids who were playing the game weren't including him in the game. The Boy had a great time and enjoys playing with "friends."

One cannot help but to wonder how long this blissful unawareness lasts. When will he start to notice that other kids are behaving badly towards him? Will he care, and will he change his behavior? What he does - the friendly verbal greeting with an enthusiastic smile, the offer to shake hands, the inclusion of others around him in games and activities - is what we teach as socially acceptable behaviors. Yet, that's not how the world of children works. Children are frequently mean and exclusionary to everyone, even their usual best friends. I'm not in a rush for him to be hurt by strangers and by friends, don't get me wrong, but I am curious as to how The Boy will develop and grow.

His parents are relatively interesting case studies in this regards. Both of us learned fairly quickly how to ignore other kids and how to develop a sense of indifference towards the clique system. I know that I had friends - or people I was friendly with, anyway - in most of the social circles in high school. My best friend has been my best friend since middle school, but I had friends in the jocks, burnouts, nerds, band geeks, other music geeks, art kids, school play kids, football players, etc. With luck, The Boy develops a similarly wide group of friends without some of the social issues from which I've suffered.

I'm not sure how optimistic I am about that, but that could just be my natural cynicism.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Scott Niven said...

I'm a single parent, and my son is now 10 years old. I love how he doesn't yet care about social norms, and instead plays equally well with kids from age 3 to age 16. Really hope pressure from his peers never changes that.


Sarah R said...

I love the innocence of this age, but I too am scared of the age when kids are mean and feelings get hurt. I can only hope that by raising them with a "do good to others" attitude, and being there for them when they do get hurt, goes a long way.