Family Play Builds Children’s Mental Health

How does playing together as a family build children’s mental health?

Diane McGregor, Kitchener, ON

 

Birds fly.

Fish swim.

Children play.

(Garry Landreth)

Play is the language of children. As the quote above tells us, play is what children do. Naturally. Completely.

From infants’ delighted giggles to doll houses, board games, hide and seek, or football scrimmages in the back yard, when kids and parents play together, magic can happen!

Family play builds confidence and self-worth. When we join our children in the activities of their choosing, we communicate that their worlds, their preferences, their feelings are important to us. When we play with our children, they get to experience how we love and value them. Play goes beyond words, to feelings and emotions that build our brains and bodies and, in turn, builds the confidence and self-worth our children need to navigate the world around them.

Shay, a parent of two little girls, talks about the joy he and his daughters experience when they play together. He says,

 “I am still trying to get used to playing Barbie, but I enjoy it because it makes my girls smile. They love it when I play with them. I realize that when I join them in something that matters to them, I am communicating that they matter to me. I am letting them know that their interests and joys are important to me, that I love them for who they are.”

Family play builds relationships. Relationships are based in reciprocity—turn taking, interaction, the “back and forth” of emotions, thoughts, beliefs, desires. Relationships are strengthened through play. Play naturally involves turn taking and communication, skills that are so important to all of our relationships, at any age. As Meg and her little girl play with the beach ball, Meg is helping her daughter experience the joy of connection and develop the skills she will need to engage in relationship throughout her life.

We also know that positive, warm and responsive relationships help to build resilience and enhance our ability to manage stress and adversity. The parent-child relationship is the most important one for helping children navigate the challenges of their world. How wonderful that not only does family play build relationships, it builds resilience!

Family play is FUN! We all know the adage that laughter is the best medicine….well, laughter is the best connector, too! Laughter releases “feel good” hormones in our brains and bodies, the same hormones that are released during those moments of warm and loving connection. A snuggle, a delighted smile, reading together before bed: these and many other moments create the same feel good hormones as laughing together. When laughter and connection happen at the same time—ahh, that is when the magic happens!

 



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