Three Ways To Play And Improve Your Child’s Emotional Health
I am sure you’ve read those articles about the different types of play. Sixteen types of play. Twelve types of play. Pick a number. Well, I’ll make it simple for you. Three. That’s all you need. Three types of play to help your child develop, and become the boss of their feelings.
There are many ways of describing the different types of play that children engage in. All play is great for your child’s development. What I want to present here are the types of play that will help your child’s emotional wellbeing. Brian Sutton-Smith has written, “Emotions are at the heart of the pleasures of play”. As a Play Therapist, I work with children who struggle in lots of ways. Often they find it hard to manage their emotions and control their impulses. I use play as a powerful tool to help children take charge of how they act, feel and express themselves. And you can do the same.
Play Is Learning
Play is your child’s natural way of learning things, including a solid set of social and emotional skills. We often separate learning and play, giving the former priority and thinking that the latter is there just for fun. But it is much more than that. Play is very important for building relationships, self-esteem and confidence. Play is also the way your child will learn to understand themselves, others and the world around them.
When children have lots of opportunities to play in their own way, they are learning for themselves. They are finding their own style of learning. This can be more beneficial than an adult-directed task. Children will learn what happens when they do things. They will learn how to make changes, and how to adjust. They will learn the consequences of their actions. And there will be things that happen by accident. This will bring joy as well as an opportunity to deal with the unexpected. Most of all, they will gain a sense of achievement because they have done it themselves.
The International Play Association states that “play aids emotional regulation … is the way humans develop efficient brains [and] contributes to developing ‘effective systems for learning’.” The IPA also highlight the importance of play for the development of relationships and the individual, and that it helps children develop “resilience and optimism”.
Play Is Essential
All children can benefit from a rich play experience, but this is especially important for those children who have had a difficult start in life. This may be due to trauma, abuse or neglect. Children who have this kind of background, particularly when fostered or adopted, may have missed opportunities to play. Providing them with the chance to revisit earlier stages will help their development.
Whatever your situation, your aim is to provide the best play experiences that will help your child to grow, learn and fully develop.
Three Types Of Play
In this series of articles, I will focus on three types of play. Each of these types of play will help your child engage in different ways. Not only will they be enjoying themselves, but they will be learning too. And they won’t even realise it. Play is fun, and play is flow. And what’s more, these three types of play will help your child manage their emotions.
Messy play immerses your child in a sensory world, helping them to explore what things feel like. These sensations are also soothing and calming.
Movement play is all about physical activity and getting your child on the go. Physical activities can particularly help your child deal with anger and excess energy.
Imaginative play engages your child’s creative side, allowing them to create their own world. In this type of play, they will learn how to solve problems and express themselves.
That’s it. Nice and simple.
A Bigger Picture
This is not meant as a criticism of the ways others have described play. They all have their place. Part of the reason for the different theories is that each author is coming at it from a particular angle. Some are interested in how children think. Some in how they behave. And yet others in how their brains develop. None of them is necessarily right or wrong. But it can be confusing. It’s a bit like the story of the blind men describing an elephant according to which bit they are touching.
I am not claiming to see the picture of the whole elephant. I’m not sure that is possible. But I do present here a simple model, one that is easy for you to grasp and put to practical use as a parent. Simplicity does mean that some things are left out. I’m sure you will say, yes, but what about such-and-such. And you’re probably right. But this guide is not meant to be prescriptive. Your child will engage in many other kinds of play, as well as play that combines several different kinds. Play is, to a large extent, freedom and exploration. Putting strict boundaries on it kind of defeats its purpose.
As mentioned earlier, I use play as a way to achieve particular aims and encourage certain paths of growth and healing. What I will put before you in these articles are practical ways to help your child develop in a full and healthy way. You will add in ideas of your own. Your child will invent whole new ways of playing. And, I hope, you will have a lot of fun along the way.