The Power Of Playtime


The American Academy of Pediatrics explains to parents why playing with young children is essential for their health and development:

Play helps build important social-emotional, cognitive, language and self-regulation skills. When you play with your child, you also help create the safe, stable and nurturing relationships they need to thrive.


Constructive playtime promotes flexible thinking, creativity, and longer attention spans. And play helps build a big heart:​​

More than ever, we need to raise little humans who are empathic and caring. The world has a lot of complex issues going on, and will need problem-solvers who can hear each other out and collaborate.


Clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham says play serves as a “release valve” for childhood emotions:

All day, every day, children have to manage an avalanche of complicated feelings [fear, anger, jealousy, humiliation, panic, disappointment].

The normal challenges of every day life for a growing child of any age stimulate all kinds of feelings.

If the child doesn’t have a chance to work through these emotions as they arise, they get stuffed into the emotional backpack, otherwise known as the body. That means that more tension builds up looking for release, and more stress hormones circulate in the bloodstream, making the child cranky, rigid, reactive. Basically, a pain to live with.


If parents only spend five minutes playing with their child today, Dr. Markham suggests making sure that play is fun and triggers laughter:

Play is one of the main ways small humans process emotions. And laughter transforms our body chemistry by reducing stress hormones and increasing bonding hormones.

That’s why children need to play. It’s their work. All mammals play; it’s their way of learning skills they’ll need when they’re full-grown, from finding food to getting along with others. Play releases tension and helps children work through the big emotions that arise as they tackle new challenges.


The AAP agrees that “bringing out the smiles” can be therapeutic:

​​One of the best things about play is the natural joy that can come from being silly together, popping bubbles, chasing and tickling or telling jokes. You don’t need to demand that your child join you—you can start without them and let them choose to join in (this way, they feel in more control). Studies show that playing in “synchrony” with your kids—such as taking turns blowing bubbles, dancing to the same songs or doing funny faces in the mirror—is great for their emotional development.


During playtime, parents are advised to let kids lead the way:

Play […] lets your child feel more in control. You can just sit back and observe. Turn off digital distractions, bring out whatever your child is in the mood to play with (crayons, blocks, action figures, whatever!) and don’t direct the play. It’s ok to ask questions, or say things like, “Oh that’s cool!” or “What can I draw?” but try to notice when you want to jump in and control things, and resist that urge.


Dr. Markham provides a number of games parents can play depending on their child’s moods and behaviors (read more here). Citing Lawrence Cohen, author of Playful Parenting, parents have a lot to gain themselves by playing with their kids:

“Play can be the long-sought bridge back to that deep emotional bond between parent and child. Play, with all its exuberance and delighted togetherness, can ease the stress of parenting. Playful Parenting is a way to enter a child’s world, on the child’s terms, in order to foster closeness, confidence, and connection.”



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