Lessons At The Playground

In many ways, the playground is a microcosm of the real world.
In this mini world, many actors and stakeholders act, react, and counter act.  

Sometimes competing for the same resource and market, sometimes collaborating and forming alliances to achieve common interests and sometimes declaring outright war.  

It never stays constant and is always evolving.  
Indeed, it makes for a mini web of intrigue with its fair share of love, hate, betrayal, biting, clawing, third party interventions and what have you.

Sitting at the top of the food chain is the Bully.  He is usually the largest and strongest kid on the block, but not necessarily so.  By his sheer size or strength of influence, he is able to impose his rules on the playground, and perhaps even own the playground.

At the other extreme are the Small Fries. The little kids who just want to take a bite out of the playground pie.  However, they submit to the Bully out of fear or ignorance, or sometimes out of practicality to ensure their own survival.  Sometimes, they don’t submit, and the outcome can be disastrous.  And there is little they can do but howl in protest.

Then, there are the niche companies and the Savvy kids who know that the way to protect themselves and flourish is to secure a niche for themselves.  They stay out of the way of the bullies and find their own followers.  They are not strong enough to take over the market, but they have what it takes to prosper.

There are the Policemen parents who make it their business to walk about the playground chiding the children for misbehaving. They sometimes exercise their own interpretation of the law, and take the law into their own hands.  At other times, they are too busy or find it too convenient to notice the failings of their own children.

And there are the Bodyguards parents who go so far as to try and prevent their child from falling.  As a result, these kids don’t know how to fall.  In the short term, they work very well to prevent failure.  In the long term, they do nothing to inculcate independence and are disastrous to the bottomline as they create a crutch mentality in that industry.

Much of what a child needed to know to survive in the real world can be learned at the playground.

As a parent, I have learned to loosen up, step back and get used to having my heart live in my mouth.
It isn’t easy and I am still learning.



  1. Regina says:

    “As a parent, I have learned to loosen up, step back and get used to having my heart live in my mouth.”

    — I’m still learning… sometimes I have to remind myself to let go and let the boy find his own footing in life, for we can’t always be there for him. He, in turn, knows how to take advantage of each of our personal take on him. He falls, looks around – and not finding anyone who’s looking at him, proceeds to go about his business again. When he sees one of us aware of his ‘plight’ he scrunches up his face, and lets out a loud howl, with huge drops of tears for good measure.

    He bullies his 4 year old nephew because he CAN, and the boy is fearful of many things. He lets a boy at an indoor playground snatch his toy away (with just a disdainful look) because that boy is bigger, older, and portrays himself as gangster-like as a kid can be.

    It’s amazing how perceptive kids can be.

    I love your poetic observation of the people at the playground. Actually the adults are more interesting specimens, no? 🙂

    • malmal says:

      hey regina thanks for dropping a note and thanks for the encouraging words ! It is indeed amazing how children pick things up around them and learn. They are capable of forming their own perceptions even without the intervention of adults. It is such natural process that often intrigues me. And I have to admit that it is sometime more interesting to watch how parents behave and react at the playground than the kids 🙂 Your little bub sure sound like a very smart little guy…and he is only less than 2 ?

    • malmal says:

      hey thanks Andy ! I think many parents find it hard to let go, but generally mothers tend to be more protective due to natural instinct, this is so in our household 🙂

    • malmal says:

      Hey Alicia, thanks for sharing the link. I can’t express it any better, natural consequences are indeed life’s greatest teacher. I remember myself being a bodyguard parent when the kids are younger and are still new to the playground. On one hand I have to let these curious little people try things out, on the other hand I have to get ready to cushion their fall in case they fall too hard. I guess ultimately, it is finding the balance.

  2. Rachel says:

    Good observations! I had my experiences with the bodyguard parents as well, this reminded me on getting quite irate on seeing some of these over-protective parents on the playground a while back.

    • malmal says:

      Hey thanks Rachel, I remember reading your post on that and leaving a comment. The good thing is, with these parents around, they will help ensure safety and order at the playground, so we can just sit back and relax.

  3. Evelyn says:

    Oops! I’m sometimes a Policeman parent! But these days I don’t go to the playground much, my MIL’s taken over, so the kids are safe. 🙂

  4. Susan says:

    I’m still learning to stand from afar and watch how she holds herself at the playground. I do step in when I see the older kids literally pushing their weight around her. But otherwise, I just let her run free and just ensure that she’s safe while she’s playing.

    • malmal says:

      I think it is natural to want to protect especially when we see them being bullied. Yet by holding back our urge to help, the little one get a chance to handle the situation themselves. I guess the difficult part is finding the balance on how much to hold back and how much to let go

  5. Ruth says:

    I know that as a mom, I will always be innately protective but the logical side of me recognises the need to let go and let my boy learn to defend himself. Not always easy though. Like Susan, I step in if I think that the older kids may be getting too dangerous or if my boy gets rough around younger kids. But reading this reminds me of how it’s sad that children these days don’t really play with one another as much. They usually end up side by side, glued to a gadget each. I wonder if this signals the going downhill of social skills and EQ of the younger generations?

    • malmal says:

      Hey Ruth, thanks for your comment. My 2.5 year old knows what’s an iphone and ipad ! In today’s day and age, it is almost impossible to shield them from these gadget. They are bound to be exposed to them, be it through friends or relatives. I guess our job is to teach them moderation

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