Now that visits to playgrounds feature heavily in our weekly routine, I’ve begun to notice a few similarities between the children that I see at each playground. As someone who forms his understanding of the world through sweeping generalisations, I have spent my last few visits to playgrounds observing the other children there, and placing them in categories.
The King (or Queen) of the Playground
You know this kid. He’s the one that sits at the top of the slide and doesn’t let anyone else go down. She’s the one who pushes others down the stairs, or hogs a particular piece of equipment all for herself, the entire time you’re at the playground. The ruler of the playground is usually just that little bit older than the rest. He has no ability or desire to share and he becomes extremely agitated when his dominance is challenged.
These kids may appear fearless, even like miniature schoolyard bullies. However, their tough-guy façade tends to crack fairly easily.
Last week Hannah managed to wrestle the baby swing from a helmet-clad toddler who was hell-bent on dominating it, despite the apparent unwillingness of any adult to lift him up and place him inside. He had been holding the damned thing for a full five minutes before Hannah got jack of the situation, toddled over and went head-to-head in a battle of ‘hold and pull’.
This kid had already chased away a grandmother with a small baby, by racing over and yelling “it’s mine” as she attempted to give her granddaughter a quick swing. The poor old darling seemed quite flustered by the interaction.
But he was no match for Hannah. Her tiny hands grasped the black rubber and they refused to budge, despite the young tyrant’s best jerky efforts. “Aw, you’re sharing” I interjected from the sidelines, which no-doubt fuelled his ego-centric rage and resulted in a few more attempts to regain sole control of the contraption. However, he hadn’t counted on the tenacity of a baby girl with surprising strength and a bloody-mindedness for swinging that matched his own. He relented and retreated to the big-kid swing, where he sat sulkily and complained about not being pushed, for the next five minutes while Hannah swung away joyfully. As soon as Hannah alighted, he raced back across and resumed his position at the ‘throne’, much to the dismay of the grandma who was once again hovering hopefully nearby.
The One Who Always Gets Hurt
Just this morning we were at the soft play area in a shopping centre. As I watched Hannah play I noticed a little boy, perhaps three years old, out of the corner of my eye. He was climbing the staircase of a slide, it was no more than a metre high. Somehow, he pulled a backwards summersault off the side and landed face-first on the soft-fall surface. Despite the meagre size of the equipment it really looked quite painful, so much so that I let out an audible gasp. The boy’s father was close by and he rushed to his aide.
Following this adventure, I went for a quick browse of a shop While Emma stayed with Hannah. When I returned just a few minutes later, Emma regaled me with a story of a little boy who had almost taken out Hannah in a spectacular fall off the slide. It felt like déjà vu as I listened. Then Emma pointed out which child it was – the same bloody kid! In the space of ten minutes, the child had managed two life-threatening falls on what must be the safest play equipment in Sydney.
This wasn’t a one-off occurrence either. The other day I watched a kid with his arm already in a sling, majestically pirouette from one stepping-stone to the next, until he gracefully slipped, tumbling head-over-arse and landing on his one good arm. Some kids are just born to have spectacular stacks.
The Nice Kid
I’ll admit it, this one surprised me. I was expecting all other kids at the playground to be self-centred jerks, or at the very least uninterested in the activities of a little baby girl who is just finding her way around. But time and time again, a little darling has absolutely blown me away with his or her generosity or kindness towards Hannah. Every time it has left Hannah with a great big smile on her face, and hopefully taught her a thing or two about positive human interactions.
Several times girls who are a few years older than Hannah, and otherwise alone on the playground, take her under their wing and show her the ropes. They play with her, show her how to do things and even share their toys with her. Hannah, in return beams great big smiles and fully engages in their games.
One child that particularly surprised me recently was a boy of primary school age, who had some of the sweetest interactions with Hannah yet. He had sent his football down a slide and it had rolled off the edge, straight into Hannah. She had looked monetarily shocked, but not upset. He came down the slide after his football and went straight over to Hannah to check on her. Seeing that she was okay, he then offered his football to her to play with. She showed some interest and her interacted with her for quite a while. He even showed her how to use another interesting piece of equipment at the playground. The young boy was so engaging that at one point, another young girl of about Hannah’s age crawled over, and they both sat side-by-side watching the boy. It was really beautiful to watch and I felt such joy that there are kids like that around. It taught me not to be such a cynical old grump.
The One With Parents Permanently Attached
Little Johnny should be able to climb to the top of the slide by himself, after all, he’s six years old. But he can’t, because for his whole life he’s relied on a helicopter ride straight to the top. This kid can’t do anything for himself, and when he is faced with even the slightest glimpse of independence, a parent magically appears with a fresh roll of bubble wrap to protect him from the threat.
Ha has absolutely no social skills, because he hasn’t been provided with the opportunity to develop them. His views about other children range from mild annoyance to bewildered hatred. His parents can often be seen forming a kind of makeshift human barrier between him and the great unwashed.
But all of that is okay, because he’s not going to have to learn how to wipe his own bottom until he leaves for university – he’s living the dream!
The One Without An Owner
You can spot this kid easily. He’s the one hanging upside-down by his ankles from the top of the rope gym when you first arrive. A quick scan of the playground will reveal that there isn’t a parent in sight, yet this kid seems quite at ease. He doesn’t think he owns the playground, he just happens to live there.
These kids come in two flavours – the ones who keep to themselves, and the ones who attach themselves to your family.
The ones who keep to themselves normally drift between the pieces of play equipment, choosing the least populated activity. Sometimes they even scurry off into the bushes for a while, no-doubt seeking some downtime from the hustle and bustle of a busy playground. They re-emerge later, sometimes after several hours – long after you think they’ve gone home.
Then there’s the one who tries to join your family. She just happens to play on the same piece of equipment as your child, and before you know it she’s eaten half your picnic. When you go to leave the park, she’ll look at you as though you’ve just run over her puppy.
The One Who is Stuck
He’s ten centimetres off the ground, but that doesn’t stop him from calling for help to get down. He doesn’t scream at the top of his lungs, instead he opts for the continuous “help, I’m stuck” said at normal speaking volume. He knows someone will come to help, they always do.
This kid has a twinkle in her eye and a penchant for playing on motorways. Her parents have learnt that she can only be taken to fenced play areas, and even then that they need to be constantly alert to the possibility of escape. She can be spotted loitering around the one exit of the playground, just waiting for a careless person to leave the gate open a fraction of a second too long.
Heaven help her parents if they glance at their phone to check an email. It will almost certainly result in a manic chase across at least three lanes of traffic. This child’s parents have the thighs of Usain Bolt and they’re probably quicker off the mark.
The Perfect Child
This is the one who’s behaviour you just can’t fault… you can’t help it that they just happen to be your child…
I’m pretty sure this is the definitive list, but if you happen to spot any other types of children who I’ve neglected to mention, feel free to drop it into the comments. I’ll be sure to keep an eye open for them the next time I’m at the playground.