Play is all about exploration, imagination, and wonder. Play is about spontaneity, discovery, and creativity. Being able to play, for children, teenagers, and adults is a lifelong skills that builds and satisfies curiosity, broadens our way of thinking, reduces stress, invigorates imagination, and boosts energy levels.
Play is not just for kids. Adults, and especially parents, benefit from play as much as children, if not more. Children and adults need to learn the skill of play.
How play aids a child’s development
Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. It allows children to explore the world, practice adult roles, and gain confidence. And it improves children's social skills as well, by helping them to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills.
Play helps with communication
Play provides opportunities for children to develop speech and language abilities and to practice listening. Whether their play is companion-based with a sibling, peer, parent, or therapist, or solo play using imagination, children talk and listen while playing. It can be exciting to hear your child sitting in the family room interacting with toys and hearing her play one character, then another, as the toys interact. It can be invigorating to watch your son dress up as a superhero and save the bath toys from the evil emperor. It was meaningful for a mother to sit in a beat-up old car and listen as her son drove her around Australia.
Play helps with relationships
Play promotes social interaction, social skills, and competence. Children who play learn how relationships work through their play experiences. The number of friendships and the quality of their friendships will also usually increase as play becomes more prevalent.
Play boosts cognitive development
Imaginative play and role-playing are particularly powerful kinds of play that help the brain develop in more functional and positive ways. Children who engage in these kinds of play have a more sophisticated level of interaction with others and with their environment than those who do not. This is particularly evident in studies of children who watch high levels of television in comparison to children who spend more time playing.
Research has shown that:
- Children whose dads played with them were found to have greater levels of imagination and cognitive ability compared to kids whose dads were non-players.
- Children whose mons played with them experienced more secure attachment to their moms, and enjoyed more positive development when compared to children whose moms were unavailable for play.
- Older children who played with their parents were also more engaged in other activities, experienced positive school engagement, had positive mental health, had stronger friendships, and enjoyed greater family closeness compared with older children without playful parents.
How Play Benefits Parents
So how do parents benefit from this? After all, parents are the ones who are juggling the needs of the children with the demands of being "the responsible adult" who doesn’t actually have time for play.
It can be really hard to enjoy it. Lots of parents feel like it’s no fun to play at all. Dress-ups, dolls, swordfights, Pokemon, littlest pet-shops, and bouncing on the trampoline may not be your idea of good fun. But parents who play get big boosts in their self-esteem, and most importantly, significant increases in their relationship satisfaction. This goes for both playing with their children, and also being playful with other adults, particularly spouses.