At the park yesterday, I witnessed a parent do something that seemed to me incredibly strange. On the playground were two extensive jungle gyms for climbing, sliding, etc. One was larger than the other, obviously set up for older children, but not so complicated that your average younger child would be unsafe.
Our homeschool group was at the park together, but we came at the same time as a group of older schoolchildren, so most of our children chose to wait out the crowd (by playing games on the lawn) before clamouring onto the playsets. At this point, the majority headed to the larger one.
A little girl, age three, had been playing in close view of her mother on the smaller playset when she saw the other children, including her elder sister, head for the larger. She decided to follow them. Her mother immediately instructed the little girl to come back to the smaller playset, and when the little girl hesitated, the mother threatened her with a "time out." "Okay, Mommy," she reluctantly responded (obviously playing on the smaller playset was better than sitting on a bench). The mother looked at me, smiled and said, "That's all I wanted to hear."
(After I recovered from shock over the ridiculousness of the exchange, I wondered if the little girl had some kind of disability that was not apparent to anyone but her mother. Not ten minutes later, my two-year-old and a friend's one-year-old were climbing up with the rest of the "big kids" on the "big kid" jungle gym. No injuries during the entire two-hour park visit.)
Potential disabilities notwithstanding, what rational person threatens to punish a child in order to keep her from possibly skinning her knee? And what kind of parent gets pleasure from the submission of a child derived via threat of such punishment?
We don't have many of that kind of parent in our group. They generally stay home where it's safe, and they don't have to be embarrassed by their need for control and dependency on threats and punishments. Because it's clear very quickly that most of our children are free to play, with or without shoes as they like, on the grass or in the sand, whether or not they've eaten their lunch first, and with mom or dad only as close by as necessary -- usually to push them on the swings or catch them jumping, or cheer them on as they tackle a new physical challenge. No one ever gets a time out -- or any other punishment. Only the littlest ones need to be reminded that no one likes to have sand thrown at them. The older children always look out for the younger when the parents are caught up in conversation or other siblings. And everyone has a fabulous time.
I am so blessed to be part of a group like ours. I hope the new mom finds it refreshing, too, and decides to let her daughter risk the steps up to the big slide someday.