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Play

Updated: Jan 11


play; mental-health-benefits-of-play; tips-for-playing-with-kids; childs-mental-health; parenting-styles-relating-to-play; mental-health

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”

(George Bernard-Shaw)






It’s a full-time job, being a kid! They’re not adults-in-training, they’re kids, and their universal language is play.


Playing is a (literally) priceless strategy for improving the mental health of your children in just ten minutes a day…


When was the last time you played with your children?


Properly played with them…


I don’t mean a perfunctory “that’s nice dear” while you’re cooking or scrolling your phone or doing chores, I mean committed, all encompassing, total attention, completely absorbed, playing.


Play is not only an essential part of your child’s development, but also an excellent way to connect with them and to gain insight into their world.

play; mental-health-benefits-of-play; tips-for-playing-with-kids; childs-mental-health; parenting-styles-relating-to-play; mental-health

We know that connection is the antidote to trauma, so what better way to invest in your own, and your child’s mental health than to put aside 10 minutes a day to commit, wholeheartedly, to playing with them?


It costs nothing.


It reinforces what you doubtlessly tell them - that they’re the most important thing in your life.


Playing with your children is a great way to help them feel safe to take measured risks and explore different possibilities and outcomes. It also means the world to them that you’ve taken ten minutes out of your busy, grown-up world to spend time with them in their fabulous, care-free world…


How comfortable our children are to explore their world through play is usually down to us and how comfortable we’ve made their experience of playing.


Do you remember how much fun playing was when you were a kid?! More to the point, do you remember how different playing looked when you were a kid…?


Children do their learning through playing, and their playing can usually be separated into one of two types:


Imagination:


play; mental-health-benefits-of-play; tips-for-playing-with-kids; childs-mental-health; parenting-styles-relating-to-play; mental-health

play; mental-health-benefits-of-play; tips-for-playing-with-kids; childs-mental-health; parenting-styles-relating-to-play; mental-health

Where there is make-believe and magical thinking – A child might be pretending to be a princess taking their dragon for a walk to the shops.




Emulation:


play; mental-health-benefits-of-play; tips-for-playing-with-kids; childs-mental-health; parenting-styles-relating-to-play; mental-health
play; mental-health-benefits-of-play; tips-for-playing-with-kids; childs-mental-health; parenting-styles-relating-to-play; mental-health


Where there is exploration and replication of real life – A child might be playing shops and pretending to be the shop keeper.







Here’s a list of just some of the things playing helps your child with:
  • Development of language skills

  • Development of motor-skills

  • Development of cognition

  • Development of problem-solving skills

  • Development of cooperative skills

  • Development of relationship-building skills

  • Development of imaginative skills

  • Improvement of mental and physical health / wellness

  • Having fun!


 

Mental Health Benefits of Play


Play is good for your child’s mental health.


We all understand that doing stuff we enjoy makes us feel better – that’s why we’re so fiercely protective of our ‘thing’; whether that’s going to the gym, or seeing friends, or cooking and eating a nice meal – we understand that that thing is directly connected to our mood or mindset. Importantly, we understand the feeling of disappointment if our ‘thing’ can’t happen for some reason.

play; mental-health-benefits-of-play; tips-for-playing-with-kids; childs-mental-health; parenting-styles-relating-to-play; mental-health

As adults, we might refer to these things as mental health boosts, or hobbies, or pastimes, but they’re effectively our grownup version of play. We’re seeking dopamine and benefitting from the increase in brain chemicals we get as a result.




Think again about the feeling you get when you turn up for your spin class only to discover the instructor is unwell… It’s disappointing, isn’t it? We might even turn into a giant three-year-old and say out loud, “Ooooooohhhhhh! I was REALLY looking forward to that!” and treat ourselves to some chips on the way home to make up for it.


That feeling is experienced by your child every time they come to you and ask you to play with them and you say no. Worse, because children are literal creatures, if you tell them “In a minute” they’ll remember and come back to you in a minute. When you tell them no again or send them off for another few minutes, their poor little brains don’t know how to cope with that.


Often, what happens after the eleventieth time of telling them, “Soon! Not long now, I just need to…!” is that the child explodes! Then, because we don’t like children to be rude, impatient, or demanding, we punish them by telling them we won’t play with them at all now.


play; mental-health-benefits-of-play; tips-for-playing-with-kids; childs-mental-health; parenting-styles-relating-to-play; mental-health

Eventually, your child will learn to stop asking you to play with them because the consequences of your dishonest and unpredictable responses (that’s how they see it!) cause them such turmoil that it’s easier for them to regulate their own emotions around the inevitable disappointment than it is for them to contain their confusion about whether ‘five minutes’ means five minutes, or whether they’re getting the brush off…


Most adults can remember a particular game or activity they did when they were kids themselves and trust me, it’s remembering that stuff that makes them smile - brief respite from the responsibilities of being a boring grown-up…


  • How involved are you with your child’s play…?


  • Can you recognise which play-stage they’re at?


  • Which type of parent are you?


The Play-Buddy:

Always up for a game of something - is the first one to get things out, make a mess and explore the world through the same eyes as their child.


The Tidier:

Encourages play but is always aware of the mess that will be made - might say no to really messy play.


The Referee:

Spends ALL THEIR TIME resolving arguments and squabbles about whose turn it is, what the rules are, who did what to who and why…


The Observer:

Is physically present during playtimes; will lend encouragement and make suggestions but isn’t really involved in the activity - might be heard saying, “You can do it yourself”


The Owner:

Is happy to play with the children, but only on their own terms - wants to choose the activities and direct the action towards their own outcome, not the child’s.



We all say we’d do anything for our kids, so I challenge you:


Commit to playing, being absorbed by and engaged with your task as if it were your work. (It is, by the way!)


play; mental-health-benefits-of-play; tips-for-playing-with-kids; childs-mental-health; parenting-styles-relating-to-play; mental-health

Ten minutes a day.


Seventy minutes a week.


That’s all.


Make their day… PLAY!




play; mental-health-benefits-of-play; tips-for-playing-with-kids; childs-mental-health; parenting-styles-relating-to-play; mental-health

play; mental-health-benefits-of-play; tips-for-playing-with-kids; childs-mental-health; parenting-styles-relating-to-play; mental-health

Top Tips for playing with kids!


Let’s be honest, the real reason we don’t pay with our kids is because for us, it’s BORING. So’s washing up, but we still do that every day, don’t we?! And I’m sure you’re not telling people that you’d do anything for your dirty plates and cups!


The chores aren’t going anywhere. That pile of ironing, or that phone call to the electricity company can probably wait ten minutes, can’t it? You’ve a lifetime of ironing in front of you but your kids will only be this age, and want to play with you like this right now…


Next time your child comes and asks you to play with them and you’re tempted to make them wait, or say no, just take a second to check what you’re actually doing in that moment. If you’re putting them off because you’re halfway up a ladder to repair a broken window, fair enough. If you’re putting them off because you just need to finish this Candy Crush level…. Ask yourself why your play is more important to you than theirs.


Play isn’t just passing time, it’s developmental. Children NEED to play, and they NEED their adults to be part of that play. It’s sadly true that when we speak or hear the word ‘play’ in the 21st century, our minds usually go straight for a screen-based activity. It’s ok to sit down and play Minecraft or Donkey Kong (age-shown!) with your kids, but it’s just as important to kick a ball with them or play princesses once in a while.


play; mental-health-benefits-of-play; tips-for-playing-with-kids; childs-mental-health; parenting-styles-relating-to-play; mental-health

Be mindful of your own responses when your child asks you to play with them. If your experiences of being played with as a child aren’t great, your ability to be absorbed in play with your own children is likely to be limited. Try doing something structured like a board game (not Monopoly. For the love of God, NOT Monopoly!!) so that the activity is time-limited and there’s a definite ending. The more you do this, the more comfortable you’ll get with the idea of being involved with less structured play. We can learn to play at any age and our kids are the best teachers in the world….


play; mental-health-benefits-of-play; tips-for-playing-with-kids; childs-mental-health; parenting-styles-relating-to-play; mental-health

JLTS has developed our own series of Therapeutic Stories for children, which are a great way to safely introduce the concept of difficult emotions or experiences to children. Find out more and purchase here:


Image Credits


Katie Baldock

From Pixabay:



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If you use any of our content or ideas (whether word-for-word or paraphrasing) for social media or professional purposes - please credit us, put a link to our website (if you are using our content online), and let us know!


© 2021-2023 Jess Lovibond Therapeutic Services CIC. All rights reserved.




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