It is a parent’s natural instinct to protect their children. No one wants to see their child put into a dangerous or unfavorable situation and attentive parents will go out of their way to make sure that everything from their house to their car is child proof. Furthermore, most parents are aware of the dangers and negativity in the world and so they do their utmost to ensure that their innocent youngsters are shielded from bad language, violent television shows and the more disturbing stories featured on the news.
Although it is a good parent’s duty to protect their child and shield them from things that are not age appropriate, it is also important that children be allowed to explore the world and socialize with others their own age. Parents who are overly protective and hoover over their children can unintentionally hinder their child’s chances for mental and emotional growth. Worse, children who feel controlled and smothered are more likely to rebel as they approach their teenaged years and engage in risky behaviors—the exact kind of actions that parents desperately want their children to avoid.
Luckily, it is not difficult to socialize children when they are quite young. Human beings are social creatures and children are extremely accepting of others. Small children, such as 2-4 year olds, are less likely to judge another person based on their clothes or appearance than any other age group. The vast majority of children subsequently make friends quickly whenever they enter a setting with an abundance of peers, such as a playground. Even a child who is quiet and prefers to spend time on their own will rarely object to another quiet child sitting next to them in the sandbox and perhaps even helping them dig a hole or have a small conversation.
Going to parks and playgrounds and allowing a child to have encounters with others in their age range is vitally important to mental development. Although they might never again see the children who they meet randomly at a playground, having the opportunity to play with others even for an hour helps to increase social and communication skills. A lot of classic social behaviors are exhibited at playgrounds. Children can work together to dig a hole or build a sandcastle which displays a capacity for teamwork. Children can form groups and negotiate rules for a multi-player game. Even manners and patience are observed when children wait in line to use the slide or swings. Conversations are had, games are played, and these actions are very important for both physical and mental wellbeing.
Yet human beings also have an aggressive side and that is why attentive caregivers should always be present to watch their children and intervene when necessary. Kids can get impatient and push others out of the way in order to get to the slide first, regardless of whose turn it was. Children can be possessive and claim that a particular section of a public park (such as a swing) is “theirs” and no one else can use it. Disagreements about gameplay can result in verbal or even physical fights and there is always the outside chance of falling off the jungle gym or slipping out of the swing and getting injured. In other words, playgrounds can be dangerous.
Although there are certain risks whenever one leaves their house (crossing the street, for example) it is important to teach kids about safety without frightening them until they reach a point where they are too afraid to go to the park. Likewise, although socializing with other kids can result in negative events, as long as attentive adults are there to stop arguments, quell rude behaviors, and insist upon apologies, the benefits of socialization far outweigh the problems. Even children who are reprimanded for unsavory behaviors benefit by learning what not to do and why not to do it. Furthermore, children who are the victims of abusive behavior learn not to repeat the actions of the aggressor. As long as adults are around to step in when needed, kids are likely to feel reassured when engaging others (however, if adults are absent and do not heed bad behaviors then nonaggressive children might indeed feel stressed and unwilling to socialize with peers who they perceive as being aggressive and uncontrollable).
Although it is essential that adults monitor the interactions of youngsters when they are in areas with other children it is equally important that adults do not pry into the children’s games or conversations unless there is an absolute need to do so (such as an argument or a safety risk). Kids can teach each other lessons through playful interactions that they will not get from even the most attentive adult. As children start to form bonds and actual friendships with individuals who they repeatedly encounter for play dates, it is important that they have time to get to know each other and ponder over the mysteries of the world (and there are many more mysteries for children than adults, as all of us grown-ups know) and create imaginary worlds and games without adults necessarily knowing every single facet of these interactions.
Children ultimately need each other in order to learn how to communicate openly (without the “altered speech” that adults tend to use when they are speaking to youngsters) and learn how polite actions make them more favorable people than aggressive ones which is the golden rule of socialization: in civilized society being nice pays off way more than being mean does. Children can teach each other all of these lessons—and have tremendous fun at the same time—in environments where they know that they are free to roam and chat without being closely surveillance. However, they also take comfort in knowing that an adult is nearby if they are needed. This is the best way to socialize children early on and build confident kids who will become functional adults. Visiting playgrounds is one of the best ways to ensure that your child does not miss out on these social opportunities.