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The One Thing to Make Sure Your Busy Child Has Time For: Play!

August 5th, 2019     By Rebecca Copek, Post-Doctoral Clinical Psychologist Fellow, Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic

Back-to-School, Child Development, Parenting Skills, Social Skills

Your children have busy lives. They spend time learning at school, working on homework, and attending sports practices and games. All of these things will help them become happy, healthy adults. But there might be something missing that will also have a lasting impact on your child's future: having the time and opportunity to play.

Play can be viewed as the opposite of work or as something kids do when they need a break from learning. When kids play together, they learn lessons just as important as those taught in the classroom. They discover how to be good at being around people.

Play Creates Room to Practice and Build Social Skills

Play gives children opportunities to practice introducing themselves, compromising, resolving disagreements, taking turns, and asking for help. During play, children also practice asking questions, sharing information, and paying attention to cues like other people's expressions and body language. These are skills that we as adults use every day, and they help us succeed at work and in our relationships. The more chances your child has to practice talking and cooperating with others during play the better. This will allow them to learn from mistakes and to be comfortable in a variety of social situations. It takes time to get good at these things, but starting early will set your child up for success at home, school, and in their relationships with others now and in the future.

Play Creates an Environment for Children to Learn to Deal with Conflict

When your child plays, it is inevitable that things won't go "their way," and your child may feel angry or disappointed. If your child lets these emotions run wild, other kids might not want to play with him or her. Getting left out of the fun is a powerful signal to your child it's time to do something different, which makes experiencing strong emotions a fantastic opportunity to practice staying calm. You can help your child learn to manage strong feelings by using strategies like walking away from the situation, taking deep breaths, or talking to an adult. Practicing these strategies during a neutral time will increase the chances that your child will remember to use these techniques in the heat of the moment.

Play Creates Opportunities for You to "Catch Them Being Good"

When you watch your child play, consider paying special attention to behaviors that you like. If you see your child introduce himself to someone, share, or hear him or her use kind words, point it out with praise! A quick conversation when playing is done where you acknowledge the social skills used and praise your child for using them will increase the likelihood that your child will continue to demonstrate those behaviors in the future.

Even though play is an important part of all children's development, many parents might think of it as a luxury in an already busy day. Remember your child needs time to explore and enjoy play by themselves and with others. It will allow them to blow off steam, use their imaginations, and learn and use new skills important to their future. 

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