The Playground Revisited

Dear Reader,

This is a continuation of my previous post, “The Law of God on the Playground.” In that post, I described a situation at a recent homeschool park day that many moms seemed to have a problem with. In that earlier post, my main goal was to ask and answer the question “what rules govern my children’s behavior at park day?” My answer in a nutshell was that I want my children to hold to the law of God then as in all areas of their life. (It’s a long post; you will have to read it to see what I mean by that.)

But there are some other lingering issues like “how rough is too rough?” This is a big question I hear moms ask. Dads don’t tend to be at park days. I am curious if a dad there would have ever considered this question. A lot of it may be a gender issue. As I mentioned in my earlier post, when the play got rough I believe every single girl went off to do something else. The issue we had only concerned boys. I will also note that of the twenty or so boys participating, I know of only one that was upset by the game. Now I am not saying we should discount his feelings because there is only one of him. But many more than one mother was discussing this issue.

So we are left with the age-old question why do boys play so rough? And is it good for them (or at least not bad for them)? Or is there a limit, a point at which we should put  a stop to it? The fact is boys and girls are not the same. Males are stronger and are the protectors, defenders, and, yes, the fighters of our race. I want there to be people ready to go to war to defend our country so how can I label all aggression as bad? And if girls play house to practice for their future callings, why should boys not play war? I have also noticed (no great observation on my part) that boys’ games seem to involve justice somehow. Think cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians (in poor taste these days, perhaps, but it was still about good guys and bad guys). Even the game our many boys were playing at that fateful park day was “prison” in which some of them rounded up others who were presumably the criminals. Boys seems to be drawn to these good guy, bad guy scenarios and I cannot help thinking it is because through their play the are working out something about justice and how right and wrong interact.

I really don’t know what a psychologist would say (not sure if I would care) but I cannot help thinking that these kinds of play seem so persistent in the lives of boys throughout the centuries that they must be necessary to their development.

One mom had suggested that the boys play only established games with set rules like tag. But this not only deprives them of the kind of good guy/bad guy roleplaying they seem geared to engage in, it also limits their creativity. And the fact is the boys (and girls when they participate) do seem to do a great job of coming up with their own games and agreeing upon a  set of rules and allowing everyone to play.

But there are times when it goes too far. What has begun as a game and is agreed upon and played willingly by all just seems to take a turn for one boy and to go too far. And he loses control and usually attacks. This happened at our park day recently and I know I have seen my boys do it too. I do think it is something they outgrow as they gain more perspective and more self-control. But it can happen in an instant that the game for one child goes from fun to no fun. So when do we as adults step in? Is there a point where we can say “this looks like it will be too much soon” and so we should intervene? We could come up with endless lists of rules about what does and doesn’t cross the line, but that is not something I am in favor of (I addressed it in that earlier post).

My own inclination is that I would be very hesitant to step in. If an adult always is stepping in when they fear someone might think it has gone too far soon, then we are never giving our kids a chance to confront that moment when they may or may not lose their cool. I don’t think we teach our kids how to stop themselves and how to control their own behavior by always stepping in. I think they need to get to that point where they feel like striking out and to stop themselves or they will never learn self-control.

I think I am influenced by Charlotte Mason’s ideas on habit-training in this. She said that if we are always reminding our children to do something, say put away their coat, they will never learn to do it. It needs to be on them to remember or they will happily go through life letting us do their remembering for them. So too, I think, our children will only learn self-control be being in situations where they have to control themselves. We can’t do it for them. And, yes, there will be mistakes. But I am not at all convinced they will learn what they need to learn if we are always stepping in.

Wat do you think? Where are te limits to rough play? Should we let boys be boys or I am just excusing their behavior?


6 responses to this post.

  1. Nebby,

    It’s a great question and one I think about a lot as mother to 2 girls and soon to be 6 boys. In our home this is what we have come to decide:

    – We do not roughhouse unless Daddy instigates or is overseeing it. He is the leader and guide, alert to overseeing what is going on and keeping his boys actions within acceptable limits (roughhousing in fun instead of crossing over into hurting in anger). When a boy goes beyond those bounds into anger he steps in as their authority and redirects them to appropriate ways to handle their emotions (ex punching bag not punching brother, running laps, tackling a challenging physical task until their emotions and the adrenaline they bring have evened out). We see these times with daddy as times for our boys to practice their protector role as a man, learning to use their bodies in physical ways with guidance.

    – In all other instances (playground, general play with siblings, etc) we act in accordance with what we know of God’s law: acting in love, caring for others, kindness, helping, serving, protecting the weak, etc.


  2. I like the idea of having Daddy involved but practically speaking, I just don’t think it would work in my house. My dh has just a couple of hours with the kids on weekdays and he is usually tired. He would certainly not provide them with as much physical stimulation as they need, And then there are all those times when they are not wrestling but there is physical contact which is clearly not just hugging. In fact sometimes we have hugging which turns violent. We call it huggling. asically there is lots of toughing and it turns from something acceptable to something unacceptable in a second. It is really hard to draw the lines of what is allowed and what isn’t.

    Six boys seems overwhelming to me though I wonder if perhaps 2 is a bad number because it is always the 2 of them. At least with more they have a choice of which brother to annoy and they are not always on top of each other.


  3. Not to overlook the issue with boys–I have experienced boy issues myself–but the line where you said a mother suggested that the boys only play organized games with established rules reminded me of something Miss Mason wrote in Chapter 4 of her third volume:

    But organised games are not play in the sense we have in view. Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make. They must be content to know that they do not understand, and, what is more, that they carry with them a chill breath of reality which sweeps away illusions. Think what it must mean to a general in command of his forces to be told by some intruder into the play-world to tie his shoe-strings! There is an idea afloat that children require to be taught to play––to play at being little fishes and lambs and butterflies. No doubt they enjoy these games which are made for them, but there is a serious danger. In this matter the child who goes too much on crutches never learns to walk; he who is most played with by his elders has little power of inventing plays for himself; and so he misses that education which comes to him when allowed to go his own way and act,

    “As if his whole vocation
    Were endless imitation.”

    Anyhow, at my CM co-op we recently had to forbid wrestling after a Real Schoolyard Brawl. That was unexpected! 🙂

    In general, I have a “just don’t look” policy when my boys are playing rough because I *know* that things bother me because I am a woman, and I *know* they need rough play for their development. If I don’t look, I don’t nag! Of course, the bigger the group, the more concern there has to be for the dynamic and that all the involvement is voluntary…as you already said.


    • Thank you for your comment, Brandy. I think thay quote from Charlotte is perfect. I particularly like the part about us grown-ups not understanding their play. I have to admit I often try and ignore what is going on too, but then some other parent comes and asks me things like “do you think they are being too rough? what should we do?” and I have to admit I was paying no attention to my children and whether they mean to make me feel that way or not, I end up feeling like a horrible parent. So it is nice to know that others untentionally pay no attention too.


  4. […] Reader, I did a couple of posts recently (here and here) on some problems we have had at our local homeschool park day. But I don’t want to leave […]


  5. […] for me personally as I have disagreements with other parents on how much violent play to allow (see this post and this one). I am pleased to find that Gray is not bothered by a high degree of violent play, […]


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