This Dad’s Guide to the Park

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You never realize how important parks are until you have a kid. Before I’d go play basketball every once in a while, but now I’m hitting parks several times a week. I’m lucky to be in Los Angeles where you also can pretty much use parks all year round. As the parent of a toddler there will be running around! I’ll be reviewing some LA parks in the near future, but in the mean time I wanted to give you some tips/tricks and things to avoid!

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Photo by Grant Criddle on

At First It’s Terrifying

Your home is your place of control, you know everything that is happening and you can curate most of the play experiences. As your child starts climbing around the park you will think everything there is a death trap. You will see the stairs and think “they can get up, but can they get down?”, you will see the slide and think “hope they don’t fall down” and you will see the swings and internally shout “why are you standing right in the way of the kid swinging!?”. It took some time to get used to, but as long as you are attentive you and your child will have a good time.

Be Ready to Run

Bring your sneakers. They will be all over the place. You will love nothing more than a park with fences as that means you can keep some limit on where they can go. Especially when it’s a new park they will need to explore everything. Try to make a game of it and enjoy it as there is nothing more fun than the excitement of your child taking it all in.

Come Equipped

Gear up! Sunscreen, Check! Water, Check! Snacks, Check! More Snacks, Check! Even More Snacks, Check! Super important to make sure your bag is stocked up before heading out. Each time we go to the Park we go through a crazy amount of snacks, particularly if he’s sharing with his friends. A change of clothes can also be helpful sometimes as things can get messy if you’ve got yourself a drooler. Bring a hat just in case they will actually want to wear it. We also love to have lunch after playing so a Portable Chair is also amazing so that your child can have a good lunch.

Sand is Lava

“Is it a Sand park?” is the first question I ask every time somebody wants to go to a park I’m not familiar with. Sand sucks! Luckily now a lot of parks have these rubbery surfaces and it is just amazing. We can run around go crazy and not need to come home and hose him off, or vacuum up the car and shoes. Some parks do have the hybrid where there are sand areas, but I act like they don’t exist and for the most part that has worked. No sand was also a piece of criteria I thought about when selecting a Preschool. You’re cleaning enough as a parent so you don’t want to spend the next 6 months finding sand everywhere.

Try to let them Explore (The Art of Appropriate Hovering)

This was the hardest thing for me to do. I have a hypersensitivity to danger so when we first started going to parks I was always right there and guiding his play experience. Ultimately you want them to be guiding themselves and you can just fade in to the background and respond when called (or ready when needed). I call it appropriate hovering, basically acting like a secret service agent. Scope the place, see where the danger is and keep an eye on your child. If they want you to chase them and play, by all means do, let them choose the activity.

Some Kids are just Jerks

Some kids are just jerks and sometimes their parents aren’t much better. Focus on yourself and your child and try to redirect the energy to a different direction/activity. There are some kids that are wild and the parents are off in the distance staring at their phones not knowing that their child is a complete little pain in the ass! You don’t want to start a fight with anybody (though part of me wants to tell them how I’m feeling). One time at the park these two little girls told me son (who was 15 months) “Don’t look at me” and were giving him a hard time. It was crazy as he has no idea what’s going on and isn’t fully in control of 99% of his actions. So you just take a deep breath, acknowledge that these kids are assholes and redirect the energy to another part of the park.

Most of the time kids do mean well, so odds are you will make a lot more friends than enemies. With the wide range of ages from kids just learning to walk, to kids who look like they have a mortgage to pay, people are playing at different speeds. Try to talk positively about the other kids even if they are little pricks “It’s your new friends turn, we’ll go on this slide after”. Your child feeds off of your energy so if you are calm and having fun, they will have fun.

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