Four square, tetherball, monkey bars and swings. Ah recess. All of the games to play on the playground. Either these bring up warm memories or maybe even the utterance of the word recess leaves you shuddering in the corner. Perhaps you experienced bullying during recess or had trouble on the playground. Recess can be many things for our children, sometimes the best part of the day and for others, the worst part of the day.
Recess is a time for children to be active. To let loose after they have been working so hard in the classroom. They deserve to be able to relax, to run, play, scream and have fun with friends. And some children do. But it is also a time of day, with the least amount of supervision, less structure, and often times, when children are are caught making not so wise decisions about their behavior and how they treat others.
So how can you help your child navigate this time so that they can have a great experience? Parents can play a significant role in helping their child enjoy recess without actually being there in person.
How To Talk About Trouble On the PLayground
One of the first questions a parent may ask when a child comes home is, “How was your day?”. We listen, and we may ask further questions. What parents don’t realize is how they respond to their child has a direct impact in how that child feels about every situation, and also will have a direct impact on how the child handles a similar situation the next day.
For example, if a child comes home and talks about how fun their teacher is. The parent glows and says, that is awesome. Your teacher is such a great person. I am so glad you like her. In turn the child feels validated about their feelings and feels very positive about their teacher. The next day, they generally go into class excited to see their teacher again. When asked the next day about how things went with the teacher, the child knows what to say because they have been taking note pf the positive things and looking for them throughout the day to bring home to share with parents.
On the other, if a child has a negative experience about something and tells the parent, we tend to go into the situation showing empathy for our child. For example, a child comes home and speaks about how a classmate was mean to them and called them a name. Of course as a parent, you tell your child that the other child was wrong and shouldn’t have done that. The next day when your child comes home, your first instinct is to ask if that other child was being mean again or how that interaction went. Now your child wants to have something to talk to you about and generally may inflate or keep looking for the negative.
As parents, we can drive what our child focuses on in school, simply by how we react and respond to them.
What kids say about recess – And How You Should respond
Here are some common “complaints” a child may come home with around recess, and suggestions on how you as a parent can respond and help your child to be an independent problem solver so they can overcome these hurdles and have a positive experience.
Child – “I have no one to play with”
This is the worst. You want your child to have friends, to play with others and not feel lonely. Often children may come home and say this, but we don’t know all the information. Was it for the whole recess? A short time? For all children, time doesn’t matter. Sometimes these negative feelings outweigh the entire experience. Also, the playground is huge and generally there are many children out there. Perhaps they just couldn’t find the right friend outside.
Suggested Parent Response– I am sorry to hear that. Sometimes it can be lonely, but it is OK to be by yourself sometimes. What are some things you could do by yourself at recess and still have fun? Who are some friends you could look for at recess time and try to find on the playground tomorrow?
Child – “No one wants to play what I want to play.”
Children are egocentric. It is all about them, and this is developmentally appropriate. They need to learn the social cues for playing with others and what it means to compromise.
Suggested Parent Response – “That is hard when others don’t want to play the same thing. I understand why you may be feeling sad or frustrated. What are some of the games or activities you want to do outside? Who could you ask to play tomorrow? If they say no, who else might you ask? Sometimes, we have to make an agreement with a friend. Try asking your friend if they can play someone the one wants to play for the first part of recess, and then during the second part they can play what you want to.
Child – “I always get picked on outside.” or “[Insert name] is mean to me outside”
Suggested Parent Response – “I am sorry to hear that children are being mean to you. This happens sometimes. How are some ways that you can handle this situation?” (Walk away, ask the person to stop, talk with an adult)
Bullying During Recess: When does a parent need to Get Involved?
You may be wondering when is the right time for you as a parent to get involved with a recess situation. Always contact the teacher or principal if your child is talking about a situation where your child or another child may be unsafe.
As hard as it may be to hear, many children will have instances where there are other children that are mean to them, or pick on them. Your first instinct will be to call the school and demand to know what is going on. How is the school going to keep your child from being hurt by others? Do not call the school immediately. First help your child to solve the problem on their own. Is this a one time instance? Is this happening frequently? Also, ask, what happened before this incident? Sometimes children “forget” to tell their parents that right before they were called a name, that they themselves were being mean to the other child, or fighting with them. Ask the questions and find out more information.
If you believe that these situations are happening frequently for your child it is possible they may be getting bullied. Bullying is a serious issue, that involves REPEATED action involving a use of power over another. Not all situations are bullying, and you as a parent need to know the difference.
If you suspect your child is being bullied, start tracking the incidents and call the school immediately. Start with talking with the teacher. Ask them to start an investigation, and then connect back with them. Ask for a plan to resolve the situation or provide safety for your child. Then give the plan time to work.
Talk About REcess with Your Child
If you talk through common issues with your child, they can be mentally prepared to problem solve on their own. By role playing multiple situations, you are setting your child up to have a successful recess time.
Make sure to check out this free worksheet to fill out with your child. Keep it somewhere handy and refer back to it with your child.
Recess is meant to be that time for students to relax and have fun. Make sure your child gets that experience too.
By Lisa Edwards, M.ED., Parent Coach
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