The Importance of Giving Kids a
Balance of Play
- Play allows kids to gain different skills they can’t learn through academics.
- It is important to make time for play to help in ensuring a healthy development for your child.
- Let your kid’s imagination lead playtime, instead of having teaching lead the activity.
- Laughter is the best medicine for stress, anger and frustration, and play can help produce it!
What does getting a balance of play mean to you?
A balance of play is recognizing that school report cards aren’t the “end-all-be-all” assessments of how well our kids are doing. It means purposefully infusing life with play, not treating it as something to only do in your spare time. Cause who’s got much of that anyway?!
Why is it important that kids get a variety of play?
Balancing a demanding academic workload with silly games, imaginary play, social interaction and laughter is where we see massive growth that cannot be ignored in the big picture of long-term success. A variety of play allows kids to cultivate different skills. Just like most parents want their kids to have a varied academic experience to enrich their knowledge…play is just the same! The National Institute for Play outlines 7 different types of play:
- Attunement Play – think about a newborn baby making eye contact with his mother and both smiling radiantly at each other
- Body Play & Movement – think about jumping into the air and splashing into a swimming pool
- Object Play – think about playing with and manipulating objects such as banging on pans or building with blocks
- Social Play – imagine a laughter-filled rough-housing interaction between siblings or with your toddler
- Imaginative & Pretend Play – children explore innovation and fantasy through their imagination
- Storytelling-Narrative Play – this is how kids learn to make sense of their world and their own place within it
- Creative Play – think of idea-generating play that allows kids to spontaneously explore their fantasies
Are all types of play good or do you think some are more beneficial than others?
As a psychotherapist and parenting expert, my focus is making sure our adult brains don’t confuse the purpose of play when we try to engage with our children. You might be thinking, “How could I get confused when it comes to play? I was a kid too!” Here’s what I mean… I make sure that the families I work with create time for play that is disconnected from planning for the future. For example, building an obstacle course with your kids so they can ride their power wheels through (read: goal = fun) versus kicking a soccer ball in the backyard in preparation for next year’s tryouts (read: goal = skill-building). Am I saying that skill-building activities are bad? Definitely not. But what tends to happen is that we get so caught up in helping our kids improve a particular skill, that we take it too seriously and the fun is forgotten about. Think of that classic movie scene where a parent is completely over-reacting to a referee call during a pee-wee football game. Not a good look! Reminding ourselves to play for the sake of playing is a helpful way to avoid being that parent.
In your experience, how can getting a variety of play help kids cope with the many stressors that fill their days?
To put it simply, laughter is the antidote to stress, anger and frustration. Children come home from school with a full emotional backpack from the day’s events and interactions. It would be unfair and impossible to assume we could change that fact. Instead, accepting that our children feel stress in their daily life can motivate us to help them unload that backpack through the process of play.
What are some tips you’d like to give parents on how to make sure their child is getting a good mix of play?
- Create opportunities for play that cultivate the 5 components of Emotional Intelligence (EQ): Self-Awareness, Empathy, Social Skills, Emotional Regulation, and Motivation.
- Chess – children learn to toggle between 2 different perspectives, and more importantly, how to look at a situation from another person’s point of view (Self-Awareness, Empathy)
- Wiffle Ball – team-oriented games help cultivate a mindset of working together to accomplish a shared goal (Social Skills, Emotional Regulation, Empathy, Motivation)
- Pretend Tea Party with your child’s favorite characters – allows children to use their imagination, be creative, and explore fantasies (Social Skills)
- Drawing/Coloring/Painting – the beauty is in the eye of the beholder which allows children to create something they can feel proud of without feeling pressured to adhere to specific guidelines (Motivation)
- While you’re playing, suspend the temptation to constantly teach your kids skills and let their imagination be the leader.
- Give yourself permission to be swept up in play with your kids…the stress-relieving benefits are meant for you too!