The Power of Play

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Wooden Toys for Kids - PomPom

Our children are growing up in a fast-paced age, riding a wave of technological change while grappling with academic demands and busy extra-curricular schedules.  Their lives have become so hectic that it can be hard to find time for good old fashioned play.  Children’s ability to play and explore, free from direct adult guidance, has plummeted in recent years, while mental health problems have rocketed.

The growing crisis in children’s mental health in the UK is widely documented.  With 1 in 8 children now thought to suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition, it has never been more important to look after our children’s emotional wellbeing.

To shine a spotlight on the importance of supporting young people’s mental health, charity Place2Be is running Children’s Mental Health Week from 3-9 February.  This year’s theme is Find your Brave.  Modern life is awash with challenges, yet we can help our children to cope and to realise that being brave isn’t about bottling up feelings or coping alone, but about taking positive steps to overcome obstacles, boosting their confidence and resilience.

HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, Royal Patron of Place2Be says: ‘Being able to try new things and push ourselves outside of our comfort zone are important skills that can build children’s resilience and self-esteem.  Learning these skills early in life can give children tools to cope with future challenges they may face in adulthood.’

So how do we help our children not to feel overwhelmed by the challenges they will inevitably face as they grow up? 

Ditch structure and let your children play freely.  Prise them from their screens and encourage them to challenge themselves.  Provide autonomy within sensible limits and you’ll positively boost their mental health.  

A supportive home environment that promotes frequent, positive interaction, works wonders.  Happy children form secure attachments, which leads to healthy brain development, improving children’s ability to regulate emotions, empathise and form relationships and to cope under stress. Be positive and playful with your children, and you will encourage spirit and emotional strength in them. 

Let children experience boredom.  How many of you have heard your children wail, ‘There’s nothing to do!’?  Claire McCarthy, Faculty Editor of Harvard Health Publishing, believes that constantly entertaining children prevents them from learning to entertain themselves and means that ‘they will miss out on important opportunities to create and explore.’

Shoo the children outside to load up on Vitamin D and burn off some energy.  There are fewer rules and restrictions outdoors, and your children are bound to find a stint outside exhilarating.  Think mud pies, tree climbing and den building…

‘Toys, not words, are the language of a child’ says Israeli designer Yaara Nusboim, creator of therapy dolls for children struggling with emotional trauma.  Play therapy first appeared in the 1930s and can be a valuable, unthreatening way of encouraging children to work through their experiences.

Ideally, choose plastic free, age appropriate toys to encourage learning and problem solving and spark creativity and imagination.  Children benefit hugely from playing games with you – try digging out a board game, building a model together or invest in some enduring kids’ garden toys.

As parents and carers, we must help our children develop happier and healthier minds, so don’t delay, play!

Fiona Philip