How Play Can Help Children Adjust to Post-Lockdown Life
Dr. Hayley van Zwanenberg is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Oxford.
Dr. van Zwanenberg helps young people below the age of 18. She is able to diagnose and treat a wide range of mental illnesses including depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks and phobias. Dr van Zwanenberg is also able to assess for autism spectrum disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and provide access to appropriate support and treatment.
Dr. van Zwanenberg works closely with psychologists and therapists to make sure that children and adolescents can access the right treatment for their diagnosis.
- Play is an opportunity to model behavior and teach kids skills that will help them in the future. For example, by acting graciously when losing, a parent can demonstrate how to behave appropriately when you face disappointments in life.
- Play builds and strengthens positive parent-child relationships. Playing together increases the hormone oxytocin, the ‘happy’ brain chemical, which supports familial bonding.
- Taking the time to play together acts as a great stress-reliever not only for the child, but for the parent too.
Children have seen their lives disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak. One of the things that they have been missing out on is playing and interacting face-to-face with their friends.
Play is something that is incredibly important to a child’s development and wellbeing. The interaction helps with their social skills as well as their brain and language development. When they move, jump, and run around, this supports their physical development. Play can also be a great way for children to work through any stress and worry, as it gives them the opportunity to explore and express how they are feeling in that moment.
At this time, when children don’t have as much of an opportunity to interact with their friends in the ways that they once did, playing at home is something that should be encouraged.
Life as a parent may be very busy at the minute, but, establishing some time every day to play together will not only support your child’s development, but will also give you an opportunity to monitor their anxiety and stress levels, which may be heightened as a result of the changes and uncertainties caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
To get the most from play-time bonding, remember to turn off any devices and give your child your undivided attention. Below are five types of games and activities that are very beneficial to play with children now and will also help them prepare for life post-lockdown:
Children learn a lot from role-playing with adults or other children.
You may want to role play certain scenarios with your children, to teach them social skills that they might not have practiced for a while. For example, ‘Let’s pretend we are friends going to play at the playground and there is only one swing and we both want to go on it’. This sort of role playing can teach children so much. They have to solve a problem and think about what is right and wrong and fair and communicate all this.
As life for your child is likely a little different to what it was before lockdown, you may want to role-play scenarios that have slightly changed because of COVID-19. For example, you may want to play ‘going to the supermarket’, where you follow a one-way system down the aisles and leave space between people in the queue. This can help your child know what to expect when they next go to the shops, which can stop it from being an experience that causes them to feel confused and anxious.
Social Story Books
Social stories are short stories that depict a social situation that your child may encounter. Social stories are used to teach common social skills using precise and sequential information about everyday events to lessen confusion or anxiety on the part of your child. They can be incredibly useful for all children, particularly at this moment in time when they are exposed to fewer social scenarios. These stories give you an opportunity to run through common social situations with your child and talk through how these scenarios can be handled in real life.
These stories can also lead to discussions between you and your child, where you talk about why characters acted in certain ways or what will happen next in the story. As well as helping in their interpretation of social scenarios, talking about how the story would progress once the book is over can also support their imagination and communication.
In general, spending time reading with your child is something that is beneficial to their development. Following the storyline can help to improve their focus, listening skills and concentration. Hearing different stories can also help to improve their understanding of the world around them, and following a protagonist can develop empathy, as they think about and follow the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the main character.
Turn taking is an important part of play for young children and often, they find it hard. It requires patience, communication as well as self-regulation, which are all skills that children learn and develop as they play these types of games.
Outdoor activities that involve turn taking include playing chase or catching and kicking a ball between you both. And indoor activities include board games and memory cards.
When it comes to turn taking games, children should be exposed to both winning and losing so that they can experience the different sensations and learn how to have and deal with these emotions. By parents acting graciously when they lose, this can also act as a learning experience, as you demonstrate how to behave in moments when you face disappointments in life.
Emotion Reading Games
“Emotion reading” games can be a fun and useful game to play with your child. Write down an emotion on a piece of paper and take turns to act it out with body language and facial expressions. You could also create a game where you take turns to identify and mimic the emotions in a series of photos. There are also flashcards and memory games available that focus on recognizing and identifying emotions, which can be useful for playing at home.
Misreading body language and facial expressions can lead to difficulties for some children. Using play to improve their emotion recognition and face-reading skills will not only support them in social scenarios but will also help them to recognize and identify the emotions when they are experiencing them themselves.
As a parent, you are likely spinning a lot of plates at the minute. Setting your child up with games for them to play by themselves is something that can be incredibly beneficial to their development and should be encouraged.
Some play-time sessions to think about setting up could include arts and craft projects, jigsaw puzzles, or even a scavenger hunt. Once you get your child started on the activity, let them start playing on their own.
When a child plays alone, it supports the development of their independence and their focus. Also, if they are able to complete a game or activity with no parental support, this can also help them to feel confident and in control, which are skills that they can then use when taking on tasks outside of the home once they are able to again.