There is a growing crisis in children’s mental health. It is a concern for many countries including the US, Canada and the UK. In addition, there has been a noticeable decline in both the quality and quantity of free play where children engage in their own, self-initiated activities. Some researchers suggest that large decreases in free play during childhood may be linked increases in anxiety and depression among many other issues (Gray. American Journal of Play. 2011).
Why is play important for a child’s brain development?
Play might be seen as trivial to some, but it is necessary for a child’s development and wellbeing. Around 18 months, a child will begin to develop pretend play skills and might pretend to feed or wash their doll. Free play, in particular allows a child to take control of their play environment and when they take control they nurture their curiosity.
Which skills does a child develop through play?
Let’s take the example of building a tower with blocks. The goal is to build a tall tower. As the child begins to stack some blocks, it keeps falling. At this point, they might need to regulate their emotions from feeling frustrated or upset. Next, they will need to problem solve in order to figure out why it keeps collapsing. Finding a solution might only arise once they have tried building the tower several times. This takes resilience and confidence. They might express their frustration (social-emotional skills). They might have to remember how to place the second block in order for the tower to be stronger (memory). Lastly, if you are encouraging your child and offering support (not the solution) this is developing their attachment with you. Building many of these skills promotes wellbeing in children which is why play is pivotal for mental health in children.
How can a parent gently guide their child’s play?
Giving them opportunity to explore! Offer your child various opportunities to explore their environment in order to nurture their curiosity. Below are 3 types of play that can promote your child’s wellbeing.
1. Offer more free play
2. Provide opportunities for risky play
3. Bring play outside!