Playgrounds & playdates

8 Common Playground Problems and How to Help

By Amanda Morin

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Some kids with learning and attention issues may have trouble with playground social rules and equipment. Here are common playground problems and how to help your child avoid them.

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Boys pushing each other on a rope bridge at the playground
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Being Bullied or Witnessing Bullying

Kids with learning and attention issues can be the target of bullying. Bullying is different from teasing in that it’s repeated and often escalates over time. It can include name-calling, insults, threats, exclusion and even physical violence.

How to help: Be approachable and proactive. Explain what bullying is and make sure your child knows she can come to you (or a teacher) if she experiences it or sees it. Tell her it’s OK to walk away if she feels unsafe or if using words to defend herself isn’t working. Learn more about what to do if you suspect bullying at school.

Older boy intimidating a younger one at the playground
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Being Too Aggressive With Other Kids

Kids with learning and attention issues sometimes lack impulse control and have trouble filtering what they say. They may push or shove other kids, run without paying attention or be unknowingly insulting. It’s also possible they don’t realize when they’re being too forceful.

How to help: Set ground rules for physical aggression, so that your child knows the consequences ahead of time. Encourage her to use words instead of her body to communicate. Remind your child that getting hit or shoved hurts: “It’s not appropriate to hit other kids. If you want a turn, ask, ‘Can I have a turn please?’”

Three children competing to climb the highest on playground ladders
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Dealing With Winning or Losing

Kids who have trouble with impulse control and regulating their emotions may gloat about winning and make other kids feel bad about losing. Likewise, they may get really upset when they lose a game and then insist others cheated.

How to help: Point out that if your child makes other kids feel bad, they aren’t going to want to play with her anymore. Remind your child that playground games are just games and that it’s OK to feel good about winning, but not to make others feel bad. Teach phrases that show good sportsmanship, such as “Good game!”

Young girl swinging on the playground monkey bars
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Not Being Able to Handle the Equipment

Kids with motor skills issues, like dyspraxia, may have a hard time using playground equipment. Climbing ladders, using the monkey bars, swinging and even sliding require being able to coordinate many different body movements.

How to help: Practice when the playground is free. Your child may feel less self-conscious when other kids aren’t around. You can help her break down the steps and practice doing the things she likes best.

Group of boys waiting in line for the playground swing
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Not Taking Turns or Following Directions

On the playground, kids have to share, take turns and communicate with others. Whether they’re playing an organized game or waiting their turn, this can be hard for kids with learning and attention issues. That’s because paying attention, understanding social cues and processing information can be trouble spots.

How to help: Model taking turns and sharing. Practice the language your child needs to know, such as “my turn,” “your turn” or even “listen to me!” Let your child know it’s OK to ask a peer or teacher to clarify and break rules down into steps. Explore other ways to help your child interpret social cues.

Child irritated at having to share the playground slide with another child
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Not Wanting to Play With Other Kids

Playground time involves social skills. This includes sharing, taking turns and joining conversations. Your child may not be sure how to start a conversation or how to ask to join a game. She may not understand when other kids are inviting her to play. This can make it hard to develop friendships.

How to help: Practice what your child can say to other kids. “Hi, I’m Molly. What’s your name?” and “Do you want to play on the monkey bars with me?” You can also help your child figure out when it’s OK to join a large playground game without specifically asking. Get more tips on how to help your child fit in and interact with peers.

Two young boys playing on a playground merry go round
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Taking Risks on Playground Equipment

Kids with learning and attention issues can have trouble with impulse control and act before they think. And kids with sensory processing issues may not feel pain as strongly as other kids. This can result in risky behavior like jumping from too high, swinging too hard or roughhousing too much with other kids.

How to help: Talk to your child about taking a breath and thinking before she acts. To lower the risk of getting hurt during falls, visit playgrounds that have sand, wood chips or synthetic turf and make sure your child is supervised.

Group of boys teasing a girl on the playground
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The playground is a ripe teasing ground. Some of it is good-natured joking around: “Whoa, you’re super-fast with those new shoes.” And some of it is just mean: “Those new shoes are really ugly!” Kids with learning and attention issues can have a hard time telling the difference between the two.

How to help: Explain the difference between teasing and friendly joking. Show your child the body language, tone of voice and facial expressions that go with each. You can also help your child practice things to say when she is teased. For example, “I didn’t like that,” or “That hurt my feelings.”

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About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin

A parent advocate and former teacher, Amanda Morin is the proud mom of kids with learning and attention issues and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

More by this author

Reviewed by Molly Algermissen, Ph.D. May 28, 2014 May 28, 2014

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