‘Our son refuses to use the slide or swings at the playground. He seems to be frightened and sticks close to the sand-pit. ‘
Your child’s caution could be a result of foresight: a sign that he’s beginning to recognize the potentially dangerous consequences of letting go and skidding down that slippery slide or flying skyward in a swing. Or it could be hindsight: perhaps he remembers taking a fall of the slide or the swing during a past playground visit, and hasn’t yet regained his confidence. Or a combination of empathy and egocentricity: It’s possible that he’s seen another child take a bad tumble off the equipment and fears that he may be next. Or perhaps it’s simply his nature: some children are innately more cautious than others.
Whatever the reason, respect your toddler’s fears; don’t belittle them – or him. Each time you go to the playground, casually offer him the opportunity to try the equipment. Having you go along for the ride (you can hold him securely while you zip down the slide together, or let him cling to you while you swing slowly on the big children’s swing) may make the equipment less frightening. If he turns down your offer or wants to call it quits after one trip down the slide or a couple of swings on the swing, don’t pressure him to reconsider. Reassure him that the swing and the slides will be there when he’s ready to play on them and that in the meantime the sand-pit is a perfectly fine alternative. And applaud his sand castles and roadbeds rather than deriding his lack of interest in the rest of the playground.
But while you shouldn’t force your toddler to face his fear, a little gentle manipulation may help him to overcome them. The equipment at the playground may be intimidating, but small indoor versions may not be. Borrow such equipment, or let your toddler try it out as a friend’s house or at a play gym Again, don’t push, but do encourage. Look for book that feature children with similar fears or ones with children playing on slides and swings, climbing frames and see-saws, and read them to your child, but without disparaging comments or comparisons to his own behaviour.
Be sure you aren’t fostering his fears yourself by being hypervigilant and overprotective when he dares to be adventurous. Or by overreacting to his falls. Or by carrying him down a flight of stairs Instead of showing him how to climb down by himself. Instead, build your toddler’s confidence by arming him with the skills for safely negotiating playground equipment. With you as back-ups, encourage (but don’t compel) him to practise climbing up and down the ladder to the slide; if its height is too forbidding, launch him on a kitchen stepladder. If he’s willing, sit him in the swing and show him how he can make it move a little by himself – by bending his knees: sometimes control can instil courage promise you won’t push him unless he wants you to, and then keep your word. Let him explore the lowest levels of the climbing frame, again with you at his side. Show him how to grasp the bars and how to move his hands from bar to bar. Help him get the ‘hang’ of horizontal movement before you suggest that he attempt vertical. But, again, let him progress at his own comfortable pace.’ If he’s reluctant to progress at all, accept that.
Even the least adventurous children, with parental patience and support, eventually learn to use basic playground equipment. There will also be some children, however, for whom swings and slides (and later, roller-coaster rides and other daring activities) will never sit that well.
For now, sit back on the park bench, relax, and count the blessings of being a parent to a cautious child. For one, you don’t have to sit nervously at the edge of that bench, the way you would overseeing a little daredevil