Play Yards and Playpens Safe Haven or Solitary Confinement – Safe Play

Are your hands busy at the stove? Do you need to make a phone call? If so, don’t risk leaving your baby to roam free. There may be a loose pencil on the nightstand, a shiny penny under the edge of the couch or a pea-sized pebble on the floor. The play-pen establishes safe boundaries for your little full-time investigator.

The need for boundaries never disappears, no matter how old we are. Though we may rebel at times and believe they “crimp our style,” we eventually discover that boundaries are the very tools that allow us to operate freely. Picture a speeding train on the railroad tracks. Is it freer when it’s on the track or running amok across a field? It goes faster and gets further on the tracks, of course. So we can conclude that the track (a boundary) harnesses and controls a potentially dangerous freedom.

Consider the boundaries you faced – and learned to eventually embrace – as a child. You probably heard someone say, “Don’t touch that stove – it’s hot.” If you failed to abide by that rule (or boundary) you experienced the painful consequences! Were you ever the new kid in the neighborhood or the new kid in the classroom? Until you learned the rules, it was pretty scary. You secretly hoped you wouldn’t cross some imaginary line and get in trouble for doing so.

What about learning to drive as a teen? So many boundaries were in place to assure your safety; seat-belts, stop signs, lane dividers, traffic lights, warning signals and more. Until becoming familiar with all those new boundaries, it was hard to relax behind the wheel. Forgetting something important could mean injury or death.

Even adults crave boundaries and can function more efficiently within them. Do you have cubby-holes or separate office spaces where you work? These boundaries provide you with privacy and less distraction; hence, an environment for optimum performance. Then there are other boundaries we embrace without much thought: we stop at red lights, pay our bills, wait in long lines and stop for emergency vehicles to pass. How about being faithful to your partner? That’s another important boundary.

But let’s get back to the baby in the play-pen. He should be inside it only on occasion, not for hours at a time (unless it’s his napping station). It is *not* to be viewed as a long-term babysitter or a place to plunk your child so you can go soak in the tub. It is, however, a safe spot for your baby while you do things that require two hands – like starting a load of laundry or slicing onions for a casserole. There is security in knowing your child is not in danger if you turn your back for a few moments.

Anti-playpen parents tend to put the emphasis on the second part of the word play-pen, viewing it as a “pen,” or forced confinement. Actually, a well-built, safety-inspected playpen grants your child the freedom to play, to squirm, to wiggle, and to practice roll-over routines without fear of injury. Within its mesh, see-through walls, your child still has an important connection with you.

A play-pen isn’t the only boundary children need. When our daughter was three, she seldom enjoyed being in our big backyard unless I was within a few feet of her. We did not understand this, because she loved the outdoors. But no matter how badly she wanted to ride her tricycle or climb on the play-gym, she could not be convinced to do so unless we were close by.

My husband eventually put up a fence around the back yard before a new puppy was adopted. Before her pet arrived, Melissa began playing outdoors on her own. Her first comment when she pranced out into the back yard was, “Now, I’m safe!”

A play-pen boundary also represents this type of security for your child. Use it only occasionally, and remember to make it a special spot for your child’s favorite toys. This way it becomes a desirable destination – not a cell of solitary confinement.