Playground Anxiety: What It Means & 9 Simple Tips to Overcome It

playground anxiety

Playground anxiety is real. I know, because I have it. With three very young children, I realized that this was something I had to overcome for their sake.

I thought I was alone in playground anxiety. But I should’ve known better. Are any of us really the only ones who feel certain emotions?

Susie Allison, supermom over at BusyToddler.com, once posted about how she never takes her three kids to the big and beautiful playground near her because it was too much for her. I never felt so seen in my playground anxiety! 

If I felt it, and the very capable Susie Allison felt it, surely this was far more common than I realized!

I figured out how to deal with my anxieties, and wanted to share, so you can enjoy the playground with your littles, too!

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What is playground anxiety?

To be perfectly honest, it’s a term I coined myself. I define it as a mother’s anxiety related to the dangers of a playground.

As we know, there are many potential dangers at a playground. But being overly stressed-out about it does no good to yourself, and certainly not to your children. (I am speaking to myself, here, too!)

As a mother of three young cluster babies, that is, children extremely close in age, going to the playground on the regular, you would think would be a given. Not the case. At least it didn’t used to be.

I had plenty of valid reasons to avoid the playground for almost a year! Between covid, and prenancies, then dealing with postpartum and the newest baby, not to mention the weather! To be honest, I was grateful for not having to worry about the playground.

But when I realized that it had been almost a year since my kids had been to a playground, the mom guilt set in. I had to figure out my anxieties, because it just wasn’t fair to my kids.

So I have mostly overcome my fears. Not entirely, and it still does stress me out.

But I have come up with nine tips that have helped me with playground anxiety. I hope they can help you, too!

9 Simple Tips to Overcome Playground Anxiety

1. Identify what exactly is making you anxious.

You may have rational or irrational anxieties. I would say mine are a nice combo of the two.

When I really thought about it, one of the things that scared me the most, were my kids falling from one of the big openings at the top of the ladders and climbers and such. Personally, I think that’s pretty legit. Especially for small 18 month olds who don’t even know to be scared or aware of heights yet.

My other fear is that my kids would be kidnapped. It feels silly saying it. And data-wise, I know it is extremely unlikely. But it’s something I worry about nevertheless.

Once you think about what exactly is holding you back from using the playground, you can begin to figure out ways to work through it.

2. Go to uncrowded playgrounds.

If there is no one there to kidnap my kids, then that relieves one of my stressors…right?

We’ve recently discovered a great playground that is tucked away. There is hardly anyone there. Ever.

Everyone’s at the super-huge fun new playground. Literally. I drove past and there were any barely parking spots left. Works for me!

I’ll slowly work up to more populated playgrounds. I certainly want my children to be able to play and interact with other children, so this is important to me. But I don’t have to go to the most crowded playground in town, either.

3. Have playground rules.

Establish a few playground rules. These should be simple and easy for your children to comply with.

My children are really little, so simple is key. My only rule (currently) for the playground is that they need to be able to see me at all times.

(It is implied and expected that they follow other regular rules, such as listening well and treating each other kindly, etc.)

Every time you go to a playground, go over the rules with your child. Every time.

4. Preview a new playground.

If a new playground is making you nervous, go check it out without the kids ahead of time. You can check to make sure it’s safe. Sometimes just being in a new place can be stressful, so you can squash that by stopping by without the kids in tow.

5. Have a playground routine.

I’m a big believer in routines of all kinds. Routines lets us and our children feel secure in knowing what to expect.

Our routine goes something like this:

I unload the kids from the car, putting the baby in the stroller. I talk with the older two about our playground rule as we walk towards the playground. They play for a little, then we have snack. We usually snack at a park bench. Then they play for a little more. When we’re ready to head out, I tell them they can do two more slides before we go back to the car (see Tip #6!).

It’s simple. Uncomplicated, but predictable. The kids know what to expect, and so do I. This eliminates tantrums!

You can read here about my secret that all moms should know for eliminating tantrums.

Routines can certainly help relieve playground anxiety!

6. Give warnings before leaving.

It is so important to let kids know when the fun is going to end! Playgrounds are like Disney World to a two year old! Abruptly leaving will almost certainly lead to a meltdown…in public, no less.

This goes back to establishing a routine. If your child knows the rhythm of your playground dates, they won’t be totally shocked when you begin to mention that you’ll be leaving in a little bit.

I give my kids plenty of time to play, but also plenty of time to process that we will be leaving in a certain amount of time.

For example, while my kids are finishing up snack, I’ll say something like, “We’ll play for a little while longer, and then we’re going back to the car.”

When we’re about five minutes out from leaving, I tell them. “In about five minutes, we’re going to go back to the car.”

When it’s just about time to leave, I give them a tangible end to the playground time. It actually puts some of the time management into their hands. “You can do two more slides, and then we’re going to head back.”

This works well for my two and three year old! (They haven’t figured out yet if they walk really slowly to the slide that it’ll work in their favor! We’ll adjust when that time comes!)

Warnings prior to transitions is absolutely key in avoiding the public meltdown!

7. Have another adult go with you.

Just having another set of eyes can help manage the kids and relieve the stress for you!

8. Be present: No distractions.

Put your phone down, and focus on your kids. This important for several reasons.

First of all is safety. You can prevent accidents by talking them through a tricky piece of playground equipment. You can also spot something unsafe before they do it. We all know a quick scroll of Insta can completely take our eyes and minds off our kids. Save it for later.

Secondly, the playground is a great place to connect and have fun with your kids! It’s a great place to build their confidence and celebrate their accomplishments! You’ll miss them climbing up a difficult ladder for the first time if you’re just sending a quick text!

9. Be rational, and have confidence.

Be rational: most kids don’t get hurt on playgrounds most of the time, or they would never exist. This doesn’t mean throw all safety precautions out the window! But gaining some perspective can be helpful.

Have confidence: Mothers have been bringing their kids of all ages from families large and small, to the playgrounds for all of time! Or for at least decades? (Hmmm….when was the first playground established?)

Anyhow, millions of moms have done it, and you can, too! We are capable of difficult things!

Conclusion

Playground anxiety can be overcome with preparation and practice. Playgrounds are important for children, and we are doing a service to our children by pushing through our own anxieties for their well being.

Share in the comments below: What makes you most stressed at the playground?

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