Playground Parents - Which One Are You? - The M Word

Playground Parents – Which One Are You?

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Over the last few years I have concluded that there are three different types of ‘Playground Parent.’

The first is a Helicopter Parent. A Helicopter Parent can be defined as one who consistently hoovers around their child in an overly protective manner. These parents can be found immediately next-to, in-front of or behind their child.

The helicopter parent is a grossly misunderstood being.

Presumed to be of an anxious and nervous disposition, the Helicopter Parent is often the subject of ridicule and can even evoke eye-rolls and grimaces from fellow parents for their playground behaviour.

However, after many, many playground visits, my observations have led me to conclude a very different hypothesis. Helicopter Parents have been born out of necessity. The evolutionary need to counteract the presence of another type of parent – the Pen-Pal Parent.

The Pen-Pal Parent is one who deems their child(ren) old enough and/or well behaved enough to occupy the playground unsupervised – however the children are often neither of these things. They allow their child to play with minimal parental contact, only requiring check-ins as occasional as one would have with a pen-pal.

These parents are found on the outskirts of the playground, sometimes out of sight, turned away or engrossed in conversation with each other. They tend to travel in packs.

The following is an example of how the mere existence of Pen-Pal Parents directly requires the presence of Helicopter Parents; when a Pen-Pal Parent’s child – no more than six – decides to climb up the outside of the small kid’s tree house, realises they’re up quite high and so throws themself over to land inside the tree house, ultimately on top of an unsuspecting three-year-old, a Helicopter Parent is an absolute necessity to protect the three-year-old – or at least to comfort them from the pain as well as the fright of being flattened by a six-year-old.

The six-year-old would check-in with their Pen-Pal Parent, possibly letting them know they fell on another child but that everything was fine and then head right back to the playground.

This is where lies the ultimate flaw of the Pen-Pal Parent.

That child will return to the playground without an explanation as to why they should not climb the tree house that way, without being told to be careful of the smaller children and without a parent there to help them if they do climb up the same way again and there isn’t a three-year-old to break their fall.

Then there is a third type of parent – The Watch-Tower Parent. This parent will find an optimal vantage point which allows their child the distance and space they require to explore, learn and develop as an individual, yet positions them close enough to intervene immediately if necessary. The space they occupy is usually determined by the age of the child i.e. the younger the closer.

Now I’m not one to ever judge anyone’s parenting style in any aspect but when their approach directly affects my children and how I must subsequently parent, well I’ll tell you, that can be seriously frustrating.

I’m a former Helicopter Parent currently attempting the transition to become a Watch-Tower Parent. Wish me luck.

What type of playground parent are you?


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Michelle Teahan
Michelle Teahan
A Medical scientist once upon a time, Michelle now spends her days playing hide and seek, finger painting and creating colourful foods out of play-doh while explaining why they can't be eaten. When her two tiny bosses permit she blogs at