When Buba was born, I was quickly introduced to the soft play areas around us. These warehouse establishments made of rubber play mats and climbing jungle gyms, fascinated me. I don’t think they are as popular in the states as they are here or maybe it is because I didn’t have children when I lived there but what a great invention. A structure that holds rampaging children of various ages, padded for safety, netted for security, and every color under the sun. What child could ask for more? Especially with having a boy, I needed him to have the space to run his high energy levels down. There are so many new ones sprouting around us, we never get sick of going.
I have found that there are two main stages of conquering soft play areas with a toddler. The first stage is getting your toddler to play on their own or with other children. The second stage is how to get them to not throw the biggest tantrum of their life when it’s time to go home.
I don’t know about many of you but for us, Buba wasn’t the socializing type without Mommy or Daddy by his side. Months we spent trying to encourage him to go down the slide or in the ball pool, solo. Not a fat chance was that going to happen. He had us running after him with sweat pouring down our foreheads and crawling through ungodly small spaces, no doubt only intended for children. As he got older I thought his independence would take hold and it slowly started to until The Monkey arrived at the main soft play area we frequent. The place is called Cheeky Monkeys. At lunch time they have a staff member dressed up in a monkey outfit, come on stage and sing and dance with the kids. To say Buba was petrified doesn’t cover it. As soon as he would hear the music they played for The Monkey‘s arrival he would claw his way into our arms and half break our necks in his death grip. No joke. Screaming, “Mommy/Daddy get me!” His way of telling us, please hold him. We would then have to walk to the opposite side of the soft play area until The Monkey retreated back to wherever he came from. This only set us backwards in getting Buba to think it was safe and fun to play on his own.
When Missy Moo was born, I was determined to fix this as I couldn’t drag her through one of these mazes, chasing her brother, who treated Mommy like an orangutan instead of a human being. “Mommy in here. Mommy do this. Mommy up there.” I figured out if I had Buba engrossed on the far side of the soft play area when The Monkey song came on and distracted him with commands of my own, “Buba throw this, Buba look over here, Buba go up the mini slide,” it truly changed his attitude of the music and as long as he didn’t see The Monkey he was fine. The next challenge was to get him to play alone and distract himself. This took a lot more time and effort and over the recent months only just starting to fully see the results. This is what we did.
THINGS TO GET HIM TO PLAY:
- I DO IT, YOU DO IT: We would go down the slide with him once or twice then tell him he is a big boy and ask if he wants to try it again while Mommy and Daddy wait at the bottom of the slide.
- DISTRACT & HIDE: We would run in the soft play area, then when he is distracted, hide behind a pillar and watch to see how he interacts with the other kids and see if he panics without us. If he did obviously we would come out of our hiding place, but sometimes we hid for long periods of time.
- BRING A FRIEND: I had another friend bring her older child with us a few times to encourage him to play without us adults.
- STAND YOUR GROUND: Towards the end when we knew he was going long lengths of time while we hid or was looking around for others to play with we merely sat down. We chose a table close to the entrance so we could see him and told him Mommy and Daddy are staying here with Missy Moo. You are a big boy. Go play on the slide or the ball pool. At first he looked at us like “Yeah right” but we stuck to it and slowly he moved closer and closer, till one day it was either sit at Mommy’s feet at the table, boring, or go play! Off he went.
- BRIBERY: Yes I said it, I am a bribery kind of Mom, even though my child can’t have sweets I bribe him with things he loves. “Go play and you can have some raisins or fruit when you are done.” My child will do anything for food. 🙂
We enjoyed our blissful few weeks of sipping coffee, blogging, reading the newspaper and looking up to see our joyful hyper tot bouncing around his fantasy land until he hit stage two of conquering a soft play area. I wasn’t prepared for it nor did I think it came so quickly after stage one. We were only starting to reap the benefits then it happened. “Buba, it’s time to go!” How dare I utter such words. At first it was the chase game, thinking Mommy is being silly chasing him around the mats but really I was threatening through gritted teeth what I would do when I caught him. As the new norm of stage two, it ended in tears, kicks, screams, arms flailing, and a piercing screech that even the dogs at the dog park next door could hear. Only mere seconds ago my angel was sliding down the slide saying, “Mommy, watch”. Now he was at my feet being dragged by one arm, because I am carrying Missy Moo in the other. All while I pray the parents around me will take pity and look away or judge me another time. We are sadly still in stage two, I don’t know how long it will last or even if it ever goes away. I assume he will start school and stop visiting soft play areas therefore avoiding the dilemma altogether. These are some things that have worked depending on the day and the circumstances of our two-year old. You never know with tots.
THINGS TO PREPARE HIM TO LEAVE:
- TIME WARNING: I pre-warn him we are leaving in 5-10 minutes. If he is moody on that particular day I tell him at 10 minutes then again at 5 minutes.
- A FRIEND: We usually are with friends and their kids so I will say, “so and so are putting their shoes and coat on”.
- BRIBERY: You can have raisins or fruit in the car if you be a good boy and put your shoes and coat on.
- A PROMISE: My son is obsessed with Disney Pixar’s Cars so if needed, I promise he can watch Cars when he gets home or up from his nap. This is almost always a winner.
- DISTRACT: I tell him a tall tale about how I need his help putting his sister in the car. He is a great helper when it comes to doing things for Missy Moo.
- DRAG HIM: But usually we leave by dragging with him kicking and screaming for his coat that I put on his sister’s stroller because he was flailing to hard to get it on in the first place as I push the stroller with the other hand.
There is no right or wrong answer to these two stages that everyone seems to go through with toddlers at the soft play area. I see it happen all too many times so I know I am not alone. If I ever find a concrete solution, I will be sure to share. Until then, I hope these tips can help or if anything, you can be reassured you are not alone the next time you are forced to drag your child from a soft play area.