Play Is for Everyone

Published on: January 21, 2019

Play therapist Abhasiri ‘Oom’ Chutikul explains how something as simple as playing can not only help us bond with our children, it can provide a form of self-care when we allow ourselves time to play too, whatever form that might take. By Abhasiri Chutikul As we are all winding down from our holiday spirits, I would like to recommend penciling in ‘playtime’ on our calendars. There are many benefits of play and different types of play, which not only help us bond with our children but actually provide a form of self-care to us as adults.

Why is play important?

Psychologically speaking, play is “a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities done for recreational pleasure and enjoyment” (Garvey, 1990). In other words, play is something, anything that we want to do and feel like doing, because it makes us happy!

So, why are we not playing more often?

A good rhetorical question, as the benefits of play are endless! Here are five benefits specifically related to engaging in play with your children…
  1. Play creates positive emotional experiences and bonding

As play is an inherent part of us, infants and toddlers are naturally drawn to playfulness and pleasure-seeking activities. Through engaging in playful activities, parents and children develop trust and learn more about each other’s temperament by creating a variety of scenarios. Another important note is that when an individual experiences positive emotions, our brain relaxes and opens up to new experiences.
  1. Play helps build cognitive development

Einstein once said “play is the highest form of research.” Babies learn to interact with the world through touch, sight, sound and smell. Through trial and error, a baby learns what makes them feel good or sad. For example, when playing with building blocks, an infant can be very amused when they stack up blocks and push them down. In that simple cause and effect play, the infant has learned about spatial awareness and differentiating shapes, alongside developing motor skills using balance and control.  As parents, our role is a bit like being a tour guide of the world, where we are responsible for exposing them to different aspects of the world, so that they can learn for themselves. Plato said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Particularly true with younger children, whose language skills are not fully developed. Play provides an important platform for them to express themselves.
  1. Play as a means of communication and developing communication

As infants usually develop language closer to the age of one, their best form of communication is through non-verbal cues such as gestures, facial expressions, and sounds. Parents can help their infants to learn new vocabulary by narrating what they are doing, using very few and basic words so their little ones can associate that object with the word when heard repeatedly. Responding to your baby when they point to an object and naming the object can show them that this is an appropriate way to communicate. 
  1. Play develops social skills

At only a few months old, your infant is learning social skills through play with others. Take peek-a-boo for example. A baby would quickly learn that laughing or acting surprised when the other person shows their face an enjoyable thing because the other person is laughing too. They also develop turn-taking skills as they will realize this game wouldn’t work if both are waiting to be boo-ed! As your child grows older, they may engage in board games that teach them about winning and losing. 
  1. Bonding time for you and your child

Some parents now may have questions in their heads such as “So what do I play with my child?” and “How will I have time to play?” or, “Is playing at playgroup or kindergarten enough?”  For many parents, the responsibilities of taking physical care of their child, the household, and for some holding down a job, can be overwhelming. A lot of parents I work with would share that they don’t have enough time to spend with their child due to other commitments and their child’s sleep and playgroup schedules.  Therefore, I wanted to suggest two key points that I feel would help many busy parents bond with their child: 
  1. It’s the quality of time spent rather than quantity of time
  2. Any daily activity can be adjusted so that playfulness can be incorporated into it
Spending quality time means: 
  • Giving them undivided attention (yep, that means no LINE, Instagram, etc.)
  • Noticing when your child needs your help or input in play.
  • You yourself enjoying the time. Infants and children are very quick on picking up on energy levels. 
  • Reflecting and re-affirming their actions such as saying “yay!” when your infant builds a tall block or “I like how you drew that giraffe” or “Thank you for helping mummy bake”.
Some ideas of play activities that can be incorporated into your everyday life: 
  • Making a visual shopping list with pictures of items for your toddler to be mummy’s little helper at the supermarket 
  • Singing nursery rhymes/songs during bath time together 
  • Doing yoga together. You and your toddler can swap roles being instructors 
  • Playing I-spy in the car to see how many green objects/yellow cars you can spot, for example. 

Checklist for picking activities

When deciding on an activity to do with your little one, parents can create a physical or mental checklist of the following: 
  1. Is this activity appropriate for my child’s developmental level?
  2. Are the materials used safe? 
  3. Do I think this activity will be fun? 
…make time for yourself. Give yourself a break. Allow yourself some ‘me time’ to relax, play and enjoy.

Taking care of yourself

Last but certainly not least, in fact, most importantly! From working with many families, I have come to see and appreciate the importance of parents maintaining their physical and mental health. Having a child is very rewarding but is definitely exhausting as well. With the pressure to be a “good mum” or “good dad,” parents may find themselves filling their schedules up with child-related chores and activities and neglect their own free time. Just like our children, when we are exhausted, we start to feel negative and can resent our children. This feeling is completely normal and understandable, however, many parents feel guilty about it. Therefore, to avoid these feelings, make time for yourself. Give yourself a break. Allow yourself some ‘me time’ to relax, play and enjoy.  Why not write down three things you really want to do right now? It could be as sociable as going for girls’ night out, going to a board games cafe, or as simple as sitting down with a tub of ice-cream and watching your favourite series on Netflix! Whatever it is, please make time. Remember, if your fuel is running low, no-one is going anywhere. Take time to refuel, relax and have a fun-filled 2019 with your family!    Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash  

About the Author

Oom is a play therapist and early intervention specialist. She has been working with children and teenagers with social skills, emotional and behavioral issues in Thailand since she graduated from Australia in 2012. In 2016, she became certified as a play therapist through Leeds Beckett University, UK. She also supports families through coaching parents on attachment, behavioral and emotional management.
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