Playpens: Are they good or bad?

Not so long ago the playpen was a very common and ordinary part of a young child’s life. Ask your own parents or grandparents and there’s a good chance they not only used one, but did so without spending much time pondering over its evils or benefits. The playpen was as ubiquitous as the pram or the highchair.

But today it is far less common to see a playpen. Those who do use them often joke uncomfortably about “locking” their baby away, to buffer against the criticism of others. Forums are littered with parents questioning their pros and cons and asking for advice about whether a playpen will help or harm their baby and their family. Many feel the playpen has become a sort of anti-status symbol, where parents who use one believe they are looked down upon by those who do not.

Why the playpen has fallen from favour.

There are various websites and forum comments that allude to studies that show babies placed in playpens experience developmental delay and suffer long term mental and physical harm. But no one seems to be able to point to any such studies and Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at University of California-Berkeley and author of  The Philosophical Baby, says she ” [doesn’t] know of any systematic research on this.” What seems most likely is that advice about the importance of allowing a baby to move and explore their environment has been applied by concerned parents to playpens, though not intended to specifically warn against their use in their entirety.

Certainly, confining your child to a playpen for extended periods of time would inhibit their ability to explore and experiment. Being always kept away from areas and things they shouldn’t touch does nothing to teach them about boundaries or responding to directives, and being always able to safely play with everything in reach could encourage a recklessness that won’t translate well to the ‘real world’. Children free to explore a properly childproofed house can open up opportunities for learning that might not be available to them within the playpen.

How a playpen can work for you and your family.

But all these concerns about limiting your child’s ability to explore and have freedom to move and play are being presented in extremes – where children are either left in small playpens all day or never have their movement curtailed at all. One forum user claims using a playpen will cause “neurological disorganisation” and draws a link between parents who use playpens and those who “chained children to bedposts or locked them in closets” causing them to become “idiots [who] only grew to half their normal size.” This kind of ridiculous comparison leads parents to the other extreme where, to avoid being child abusing monsters, won’t place their children in large secure areas with toys for short periods of time.

We don’t seem to worry about the damage we might be doing to our children when we confine them to a pram or a car seat or a highchair or a fenced playground. I see no reason why a medium to large playpen cannot be part of a range of gear used to keep our children safe and facilitate every day life, when used in moderation. It would be wrong to keep a child in a playpen all day. It would be wrong to keep a child in a pram all day.  But knowing you have a safe place to leave your child when you need to have a shower, or go out to the clothes-line, or answer the front door, or any time you cannot directly supervise them, is a real lifesaver. If you’ve let them spend time in the playpen from a young age you child will most likely enjoy this space (provided you make it fun, and don’t use it as a punishment place) and happily play while you are busy.

If your baby is in the playpen for short periods of time, and other times free to explore more freely, you are damaging them no more than if you sometimes restrict your baby’s movement when walking to the shops, or driving to a park. You can get the bulk of your chores done in a concentrated hit and then are better able to give your child all your focus later, rather than splitting your attention all day. By spending time on independent play you child is learning valuable emotional and physical skills, feeling confident in your absence and experimenting autonomously.

Like so many things in life, moderation is the key. A playpen should not be a place to dump your baby while you lounge around drinking wine and sneering at parents who say babies are hard work. But if you use your playpen for short periods of time, to allow your baby to play in a secure and safe environment when you cannot be as hands on as you need to be, you won’t regret adding one to your home.

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Join the discussion below, what do you think about playpens?

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21 Comments

Filed under Baby Product Advice, Babycare Advice, General, Thoughtful, Tips and tricks

21 responses to “Playpens: Are they good or bad?

  1. Verna

    I’m concern about my two year Grandaughters being put in her play pen often in the evening after day care, the mother will bring her home , try to feed her and if my granddaughter cries, the mother would then say, ” I’m putting you in in the room, (in her play pen)” to me it’s too often, then while she’s in her playpen she watches ” DOC McStuffin” for prob two hours until she falls asleep or the mother would bring her back to dinning room and try to feed her, then back to her play pen for bed time

    • junie136

      Aww, that’s heartbreaking. Does she live with you? I’m also a grandmother and my child and grandchild live with me. My situation is that she mostly spends her time on facebook, being an “int-activist”. It’s sad, she spends all her time focused on FACEBOOK and her child is just wandering around trying to entertain itself. I say “it” because I’m trying to keep privacy. Does she live with you?

      • junie136

        It got to the point where I shut off my internet today. I don’t have to facilitate her ignoring her child. She threw a TRANTRUM and left with the child.

  2. Shell wilers

    Is it ok if a mom who works nights to but her 15 month old baby alone in a gated area to sleep..I feel it’s bad it’s isolation it’s using as your day care

  3. Genevieve

    Putting a baby in a playpen for short periods of time is not bad parenting.
    Keeping a baby safe is what is important. I give my baby time to explore outside the playpen, but also want her to be in a safe environment for short periods of time each day when I cannot be with her the entire time. Example, answering the door. Answering the phone. Or, even if I want to read a chapter in a book and be in the same room with her. It’s not abuse. It’s safety and a way for a child to realize that she’s safe and cared for, even if her parents are not hovering over her every waking minute of the day.

  4. Ally

    Playpens were a major part of most of my generation’s infant years. I know for sure my parents used a playpen at times and I was able to read by three. My fiance was also put in a playpen and he was in the advanced classes in grade school. The hype against playpens is a bunch of hogwash.

    Now that I’m older, I nanny for a few families. I noticed that the families that never used playpens don’t know boundaries and can’t handle it when being told “no” or “mommy’s working.” The families that used play pens from time to time had children that were more obedient and understood boundaries far better than the other families’ children.

  5. Anonymous

    I have baby sat for a 16 month old and and an active child…I had to run and chase after her to be sure she was not getting into trouble. When the phone rang or the doorbell chimed …I had to hold a screaming baby in my arms…As a young mother I safely put my child in the playpen so I could take care of business.. They were in there briefly…You can let your child explore and roam when you have the time to sit and and watch her..Children get to know a little discipline when they get to know ..Mom,s busy for a few minutes. These so called studies sound pretty –made up to me–about affecting their lives for ever for being put in a playpen… Betty

  6. G P

    We used a playpen (my son is 16 months) but only for short periods of time like when I need to go for a wee or fix lunch without toddler at my feet. It is also good when my toddler is overtired and in need of quiet time. 15 minutes in his playpen with teddies, a cushion to lie on and some books and he’s calmed down.

    Other than that he’s allowed to wander around the house and we leave the gate of his playpen open and he goes in and out, sorting out his toys or ‘tidying’ up his pen. It’s very cute to watch.

    Anyway like everything – all in moderation 🙂
    I

  7. Anonymous

    I used a playpen with all three of my children.Number one it keeps them Safe and it teaches kids to learn how to keep themselves occupied.This new way of parenting these days is just rediculous.Kids have to learn how to play by themselves for awhile instead if being the center of attention every second of the day.This is turning kids into spoiled,selfish brats who think they are and should be the center of everyone’s world constantly.It is also resulting in rude children who actually tell the parents what to do.How do these parents ever get anything done.Such as chores.Plus it gives the parent a little break for a little while.I did not neglect my kids and leave them in the playpen all day long.Thats not how it should be used. Parents these days should learn from us more experienced parents who raised their kids very well while using a playpen.Ive seen it time and again, kids are getting hurt more often because of this refusal to use a playpen and it’s just stupid not to use one.You can’t possibly watch your child every second.Its common sense which seems to be lacking these days.

  8. I had my daughter in her play pen periodically and for short periods so I was able to get some things done but never left her out of sight. She was very content in it. There we no cell phones and we owned no computers. So we had lot of face to face communication and interacting. As soon as she started walking I showed her how to put toys away in her room and toy box. WE played, went to the park and mall. She started pre-school after she was potty trained at 18 months. I worked at the school part time. She loved helping in the kitchen too. Her favorite section was the Tupperware drawer and sweeping the floor. Yes the playpen is fine but not for confinement. Today my daughter is 35 friendly, smart and caring person. She graduated high school and college with a B.S degree and has current position as a laboratory quality assurance supervisor.

  9. Both my children were put in a playpen for short periods of time. They grew up to be great adults and I had a clean house and took a shower in peace!!

  10. Anonymous

    It is simple they are unnecessary! Shower when the child is asleep, take the kid with you when you hang washing they won’t shrivel up out in the wide blue yonder, pick the child up and take them with you to the door!! It isn’t rocket science, it’s common sense!!

  11. I love the visual of a parent in the playpen with sharp objects and the kids running around outside it, safe and sound!

    • belsha@noos.fr

      The common sense is that a baby needs lots of indepedant play time on the floor, to develop his gross motor skills (rolling, sitting etc), the fine motor skills by playing with toys, and being able to concentrate and focus for longer periods of time without continuously being distracted. A playpen is a great place for this. By always picking up the baby and never leaving him alone you hinder his development.

  12. I have one. Everything in moderation! Sometimes my son wants to go in the playpen to relax and calm down. If used correctly, it can be a great tool.

  13. journomal59

    the old joke used to be that the parent should get into the playpen to get away from the baby…

    • Mo5Go1

      That’s more than a joke! When I had little children and sewed a lot, I would sew in the playpen. Kept them safer and gave me a little peace!

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