We know that children love to play. Playing is an essential part of childhood development and learning new skills. Did you know that engaging in imaginative play actually helps children’s brains to grow?
Through play, the prefrontal cortex develops which balances out the impulsiveness and emotionality of the amygdala.
It also leads to more positive behaviour — children who engage with play frequently are more likely to be able to manage impulsive reactions and resolve disputes. They are also more likely to have a better working memory, which improves attention span and problem-solving abilities.
So we know that play is beneficial for our children, but why should we play with them?
Play is very often seen by adults as something that children do with other children. We can sometimes feel like playing is ‘immature’ or ‘silly’, or maybe, on a more practical level, we just don’t feel like we have the time, or energy, to play with our children when we’re leading such busy lives.
However, there are many benefits of you playing with your child that you probably didn’t know.
Scientists have discovered that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain, unless it is done in play, in which case it only takes 10 to 20 repetitions. Therefore, when children learn something through play, they learn it quicker!
Because adults know more about the world, playing with a parent broadens children’s knowledge and stimulates imagination even more than playing with other children. Whilst you don’t want to turn playing into a lesson, you can share knowledge with them through storytelling and make-believe which can help them to learn about different subjects in a new way.
You can help them learn how to positively interact with others in a playing scenario, helping them to become more familiar with turn-taking and compromise.
Children love it when parents engage with them in imaginative play — it creates special memories and forges deeper connections. It’s a time where children can take control and parents can enter the child’s imaginary world, whilst being led by and instructed by their child.
Playing with your child helps to engender feelings of trust and safety, and can help to heal after a disagreement or argument.
Playing with your child improves creativity and productivity for adults as well as children. Not only that, but when we play with our children, we get a shot of oxytocin — the ‘feel good’ chemical that helps to alleviate depression and anxiety.
It may seem obvious, and not something that you need tips on, but there are certain ways of playing with your child that can improve your relationship and benefit both of you.
In pretend play, let the child develop the theme and lead you into their world. Support them to develop their imagination and creativity. Ask them questions about the world they’ve created and play along. Try not to be self-conscious — be silly with them and have fun! By letting them lead you into their imagination it shows you trust them and gives them self-confidence in their ideas and creativity.
Children crave one on one time with their parents, it makes them feel special. If you have more than one child, try to ensure you play one on one with each of them when you can. Group play is important too, so if you’re a single parent or only have one child, occasionally invite family or friends over to play.
Whilst letting the child lead the theme of the play is important, playing with your child is an ideal opportunity to teach them some important lessons and skills. For example, you could use role play characters, puppets, or toys to demonstrate the different ways we all behave in certain situations and how feelings often govern the way we behave. Together you can come up with more helpful ways to deal with a situation.
There are many ways of playing with your child that are beneficial for them and your relationship and the best part is; the more fun you have, the more you will be increasing your own well being and mental health! Enjoy!