In my counselling practice, the most common issue that children come in with is anxiety. Families live very busy lives and children are kept busy too. Parents feel that if the children are kept busy, they will not have time to get into trouble. This may be the case with some children but what all the children do experience by being kept so busy is a lot of anxiety. Children are taxied from school to dance lessons, soccer practice, piano lessons, soccer games, art lessons, swimming lessons and a variety of other structured activities. Once the children get home, they have to eat and do their homework which then leaves little to no time for unstructured, non-electronic playtime. This playtime, be it alone or with a friend, is the time when children will unwind, relieve their stress, use their imaginations and creativity. They learn how to interact with others: cooperate, negotiate and share. It is a time for exploration and discovery and it is a very necessary part of growing up.
Often when children with anxiety issues come for counselling, they are wound up very tight and one thing that they all seem to have in common is that they do not know how to play, or at least they do not feel comfortable playing. When they come to a Play Therapist, they can expect play and it takes time before these children can abandon themselves to the play and thereby start the process of learning to handle their anxiety.
My prescription for reducing children’s anxiety is to reduce the number of structured activities that they participate in. My rule of thumb would be that children should participate in no more than 2 structured activities at a time. Diane Marshall, Director of Community Engagement Programs at Kaboom! states the following:
“Research about play highlights its role in supporting cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development. Play also strengthens creativity and academic achievement, and relieves the symptoms of attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression, and potentially debilitating health conditions like obesity and diabetes, among other major benefits.”
What other activity do you know that does as much for children as play does?