Thursday, 27 March 2014

Guest Rant 3: Playgrounds.

Many foreign moms in Berlin will tell you that they secretly dread going to the playground because when the children are mean and aggressive to one another so many parents don’t do a damn thing about it.

This seems to be a popular philosophy among parents in Berlin: don’t intervene in the children’s play because they need to sort it out themselves. While it’s true that children need to learn how to resolve certain problems themselves and play independently (I am certainly not a proponent of helicopter-style parenting nor do I coddle my child), they need to be equipped with some basic social skills like sharing, “playing nice”, and (most importantly for those us with younger children), showing respect and consideration for children who are smaller or weaker than them. Otherwise you are applying darwinistic principles to your child’s socialization.

A typical visit to the playground involves shielding your child from older kids as they shove past/push your little one aside as he/she struggles to play on structures that are designed for older kids—in Berlin they don’t seem to take children under age 4 into consideration when designing playgrounds (for example: there are almost no baby swings). I have had seven and eight-year-olds (i.e. children old enough to know better) block my two-year-old on the slide, scream “NEIN!” and throw sand toys at her head if she came too close to the sand castle they were building, or jump wildly up and down on the little bridge she was precariously crossing to try to make her fall. In all of these cases there was a parent or Kita teacher looking on and doing absolutely nothing. I have spent enough time on playgrounds in other cities/countries to know that this is not normal behavior.

If you are one of the few parents actually supervising your child, you will be put into the awkward position of having to discipline children who do not belong to you. A simple, forceful command like “Platz machen!” or “Nicht hauen!” almost always does the trick because most kids know when they’re behaving badly and are subconsciously yearning for discipline. But you will also experience the opposite: adorable little children running up to you and asking you to watch them do something cool or help them onto the swing as their useless parent/caretaker sits nearby staring vacantly into a cel phone or smoking on the bench with friends (newsflash: smoking on the playground is socially unacceptable in other societies).

Sometimes I think the parents keep their distance to avoid social contact with other parents: if you are a mom from a country where chatting with strangers is normal behavior, you will be sorely disappointed to learn that in Berlin you will definitely not be making any new friends on the playground, nor will you come to expect a friendly chat now and then (on the rare occasion that it does happen, it feels like a gift from the gods). I made the mistake of trying to make polite small talk (nothing too personal, just something like “how old is your daughter?”) with the parents of children who my daughter would be playing with and more often than not got suspicious looks in return, like I was trying to initiate a life-long friendship or something! If you are already feeling lonely and isolated as a new mother, a trip to the playground will only reinforce this feeling.

But back to the aggressiveness: I would really love an explanation as to why so many parents in Berlin are so hesitant to teach their children to play nicely and to be considerate. (Maybe I should reread Lord of the Flies…?) For now I try to go to the playground whenever possible with nice mothers I know and their equally nice children. And then it’s really great fun!

Written by michicevedo.


  1. I think a lot of germans are trying to "free" themselves of the protestant constrictions they grew up with..think americans and brits in the swinging 60s. They have this slightly naive idea about "kids sorting things out themselves" a laisser fair attitude I also find slightly troubling. But at least they dont mind when you discipline their kids for them! And as you say, most kids are just longing to be told "no!" PS go to Pberg, the playgrounds are peopled solely by spanish/brit/US the point where I am embarrassed to speak english to my kids cos I am seen as one of the "zugezogene"....they also have their negative attributes and also spend a lot of time looking at their iphones!!!

  2. I haven't had a problem with other parents at the playgrounds in Brandenburg, Hamburg or Ostholstein (all the places we've lived in Germany with our daughter). Just yesterday I was impressed with how patient and nice other children were being with my two year old. Parents usually supervise from a distance but they will tell their kids to be nice and take turns. Some Kita teachers on the other hand are horrible! They let the kids hit and bully without doing anything at all.