Ask Scary Mommy: I Don’t Like Big Kids Around My Toddler At The Playground

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week… what do you do when you have a toddler at the playground while bigger kids are constantly whizzing by? Should big kids be in a separate play space? Have your own questions? Email advice@scarymommy.com

Dear Scary Mommy,

I’m curious how you feel about big kids and park etiquette. I don’t feel like I should have to hover over my toddler, so that she doesn’t get knocked over by bigger kids. There’s constantly kids I would assume to be aged 8-12 playing chasing games, tag, rough-housing, etc. on/near the equipment. It’s unnerving when she just wants to be able to play! Isn’t the playground meant for little kids? I feel like these big kids could easily take their games elsewhere, whereas the little kids don’t have this option. What do you think?

I think you’re probably not going to like my answer. 

But, I should point out that this is a topic that comes up in online parenting groups quite often. Not this exact scenario, per se, but playground dynamics and what is/isn’t appropriate “park” behavior is a hot topic.

I don’t appreciate or agree with the whole “toddlers/preschoolers own the playground” narrative. I think that is a sweeping generalization based off infrequent personal anecdotes. A small kid getting knocked over or having their finger stepped on (while frustrating) is NOT indicative of some widespread problem with tweens ruining the public playground experience for their younger peers.

A lot of playground equipment is rated for kids aged 5+. If your toddler is playing on equipment meant for those bigger kids, then you have to understand that they are sharing a cooperative environment that was literally intended for kids of an older peer group.

Some playgrounds have areas meant for the under-five set. As the parent of four kids, two who fall into the toddler category, I love this. If big kids are in these areas, then they should also be more mindful of the space they are in. Should they be doing parkour in the toddler area? No. Should they be allowed in to hang out with a parent or younger sibling who is also in the area? Yes.

Furthermore, kids with varying abilities may be need to use this equipment to be able to safely access and enjoy the playground. And we often can’t tell the age of a child by merely looking at them, and we need to remember that.

The bottom line? Kids that are 8-12+ still like to play. They still need exercise, fresh air, and open spaces. We are constantly shouting how we want our kids to spend more time outside, moving their bodies, playing and “being little” for longer, and not stuck in front of a screen, but then they get out there and play and they are suddenly “too big” and “too intense.”

Public parks and playgrounds exist for everyone’s general (safe, legal) use. No individual community member gets to be the gatekeeper of a public park. There’s middle ground, and we can find it.

Have your own question? Email advice@scarymommy.com

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Ask Scary Mommy: My Husband Won’t Put Down His F*cking Phone

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s boggling you.

This week… what do you do when your spouse or partner is obsessed with scrolling through their phone and isn’t fully present for you or your kids? How can you constructively tell them they’re missing out on life in favor of YouTube videos and social media? Have your own question? Email advice@scarymommy.com

Dear Scary Mommy,

My husband comes home from work every day, gets changed, greets the kids, and then he spends most of the evening on his phone. He has it next to him at the dinner table. He brings it to the bathroom. He scrolls through it before he goes to bed. The limited time he has daily with the kids is spent with the kids trying to get his attention because he’s always looking at his phone.
I work too, and I understand having emails to tend to, but this is ridiculous. He also wears headphones, so I find myself screaming to get his attention because he never hears me. How in the hell do I get him to understand how damaging this is to our family? Am I being dramatic? It’s also hard to impose screentime with the kids when their father is literally constantly on the phone. I fantasize about throwing it against our brick walls. HELP.

First things first: please know that you are not alone. I’m starting to get a twitch every time I see my husband’s phone. We have every excuse in the world to have our phones on us at all times; we use them to pay bills, stay connected to the outside world, bond with our BFFs, and judge our acquaintances. As parents, we’re also using our phones to document (way too much) of our kid’s lives. We all have a phone addiction. But there has to be some boundaries — especially if you’re feeling totally neglected.

If your husband’s phone habits are, as you say, affecting his relationship with your children and yourself — things absolutely must change. Feeling engaged with the outside world and current events is one thing, doing that at the expense of connecting to your own family is unacceptable. Simply put, he’s gotta put down the f*cking phone. PERIOD.

Your frustration is completely valid. I don’t want you to end up running over any electronics with your car or smashing the phone into smithereens (yet), so let’s try attacking this issue constructively. Put the kids to bed, pour yourself a glass of wine, and sit his a*s down for a discussion about this.  A full eye contact, active listening, phone-out-of-sight, “come to Jesus” kind of talk. Tell him his phone use (especially while wearing headphones, dear LORD) makes you feel disconnected from him, and that you feel a.) he’s missing out on precious moments with his own children, and b.) trying to regulate their own screentime feels like a “do as I say, not as I do” situation.

Also, electronics for the children at a restaurant? Necessary for survival. Electronics for dad at the family dinner table? Absolutely not.

Our relationships with our kids are directly responsible for their social and emotional health, resilience, and life success. According to a study performed by Dr. Jenny Radesky, in the long run, parent technology use during parent-child activities leads to more difficult child behavior. Which then, more often than not, leads parents to escape that behavior by — you guessed it — distracting themselves with their phones. It’s a vicious cycle and it sucks! Luckily, it is extremely preventable.

Now comes the work. Come up with solutions that you both adhere to. When he comes home, you both put your phones in a drawer or in another room altogether — the volume can remain on, in case you’re worried about emergency calls. But the distraction has been removed, literally, from the room. If either of you feels it’s necessary to respond to work-related issues while at home in the evenings, you can make it a point to check your phone every hour or so IF NECESSARY. But do try to leave work issues for work hours, if you’re able to. Being part of our current hyper-connected, always “on” society makes it difficult to create boundaries for sure, but as an old supervisor of mine once said, “We’re not curing cancer here. You can wait to hear from me until 8 a.m.”

Additionally, try making it a “parent rule” that you’re only on your phones when the kids are in bed. Or, at the very least, busy doing other things that will not require your direct supervision or attention (hey, sometimes kids just want to play by themselves — and that’s a good thing!). No one is asking him to disconnect completely, but making strides to be present with his family is the priority here — full stop.

If he needs something to read on the john, he can grab a book or a magazine. Or go old school, and read the ingredients on the back of a shampoo bottle (if you know, you know). Both you and he will be amazed at how much faster those bathroom breaks go once the phone is out of the equation.

As parents, we have to be deliberate and intentional in everything we do when setting an example for our children. It will take a conscious effort on your husband’s part to leave the phone far away from the dinner table and be more hands-on in the evenings. Bottom line: he can get in his “phone zone” on his own time, not your family’s.

Have your own question? Email advice@scarymommy.com

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