The concept of letting our children play seems like a no-brainer. Play equals entertainment. But when children play they are developing lifelong skills such as the ability to bounce back, cope with stress and regulate emotions. It teaches them resilience and resilience has been proven to be one of the most important factors in predicting success as an adult.
Think for a moment what a typical afternoon at the park looks like for your child. Our kid falls, scrapes her knee but decides to keep playing. She gets into a heated dispute with another kid when she’s not allowed her turn on the slide but manages to hold her spot. She encounters conflict in a hide and seek game and then has to decide whether to continue playing or not. These are big decisions for them and the more they play, the better they become at working in groups, sharing, and negotiating to solve the conflict.
One of the best books I’ve read on the importance of Play on children is “The Danish Way of Parenting.” The book supports that the reason Danish people are consistently ranked the happiest people in the world is largely due to a set of life skills they are exposed to from an early age. Their belief is that true happiness doesn’t come from good education, instead, it comes from socialization, autonomy, cohesion, and self-esteem. These skills are derived primarily from children’s ability to play.
The good news is we can adopt these practices to help our children play more and build those life-long skills. Here are some tips for Play:
- Create an enriching environment: Having a variety of materials around that can stimulate all of the senses, visual, auditory, tactic etc. These Baby Born Dolls help them step into a responsible adult role where they can explore emotions such as empathy and compassion. Doll play is amazing because it helps them re-enact what is happening in their home environment. They get to do what “mommy does” and this can be an incredible learning experience.
- Let them play freely: They don’t need an adult let activity. Forget the guilt about all the organized activities they should be part of and let them play on their own. The more you can let them be in control of their play using their imagination the better they will get at it.
- Turn off the TV and electronics: Imagination is an essential ingredient for play to have its positive effects.
- Let them explore outside: Get them outside as much as possible to play in nature. The woods, the park, the beach, the snow. Try to find safe areas where you aren’t afraid to let them be free and explore the environment
- Create an obstacle course: Try building obstacle courses with mattresses and sofa cushions. Create a space in the home so that kids can move about and use their imagination. Let them be free to play and climb and explore and create and don’t stress over it.
- Avoid intervening too quickly: Let them do things by themselves. When you feel the need to save them, step back, observe and take a breath. Sometimes it’s learning how to deal with the more difficult children and tricky situations that provide them the biggest learning in self-control and resilience.