Play is Important for Children’s Mental Health
As COVID-19 drags on and children are being homeschooled, learning with teachers online, or in classes six feet apart, concerns over children’s mental health may be taking center stage in relation to concerns over academic progress. Stress, whether unseen or unvoiced is no doubt present for children and parents. Time to play is more important now than ever. Play of all kinds engages the pleasure centers of the mind, releasing endorphins associated with feelings of happiness. One reason that play “feels good” is that it allows children to control their environments instead of being controlled by the environment. This is important when COVID-19 is forcing us to isolate and distance. We all feel a lack of control, especially children who may not totally understand why their world has narrowed so much.
Get Active for Children’s Mental Health
Active play enables children to get much-needed movement. Active play also helps to strengthen muscles and free the mind and body from hours of sitting in front of a computer or sitting at a desk. Running, jumping, chasing, playing ball are important for both physical and mental health. Get outside and play!
Dramatic play is also important for young children. This is where children can act out their fears and concerns. By observing, or better yet, participating in children’s imaginative play, parents have a window into their children’s anxieties. As children act out their concerns, parents have an opportunity to respond in the safe venue of play. For example, pretend you are the child and your child is the parent and let them guide the play. You will see what a day feels like to your child!
You may also have developed a COVID “bubble” which includes a couple of friends or relatives for your children to play with. Close friendships within play interactions are important for developing cooperation, social problem solving, and empathy. If you can safely maintain social interactions with a few close friends or family, it can go a long way to protecting children’s mental health.
And, finally, don’t forget games that children or family can play together. Board, card, and dice games are all great for a focus on fun. Not only can these games reinforce skills learned in school, they also build social skills and communication.
Be aware of what your children are learning in school and integrate those concepts into their play and daily routines. Research shows that when parents help children apply skills within their play and other activities, new concepts become more meaningful. Application within play makes learning fun. For instance, writing a grocery list in dramatic play, finding and counting ants outdoors, or doing science experiments with cooking are all fun ways to reinforce learning.
By consciously integrating different types of play throughout the day, you will be helping your child develop resilience in this difficult time. A little free play before sitting down to learn, outdoor or active play after learning sessions, dramatic play indoors or out, and game play in the evening can all help your children deal successfully with the anxiety in their lives. Preserving laughter and fun is critical for all of us and not just for today, but for every day.
Looking for more information on the importance of play? Check out Shelter at Home and Play.