Parents often ask me what is the most effective thing that they can do for their children, the thing that will benefit them the most. As a play therapist, family counsellor and parent, my answer is unequivocally, PLAY! Play is a child’s language and toys are his/her words. “Play stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates our emotions, and boosts our ego” (Landreth, 2002). Through play, children practice skills that they will need throughout their lives. They explore different roles in play thereby learning about those roles. Have you ever listened to your child’s play and heard the exact words that you said to him/her come out of his/her mouth? Your child is integrating what you have taught him/her. Apart from being fun, play provides relaxation and an outlet for reducing tension. Play encourages creativity, abstract thinking and problem solving. Through play, children learn how to master new concepts and play increases a child’s self-confidence. Socially, play is very important as it helps develop cooperation, sharing, turn-taking and conflict resolution. Play aids in physical development as well as in development of attention and language.
Free unstructured play is essential for children and their development. Playing alone or with a friend or sibling provides many opportunities to learn and each of these types of play provide opportunities to develop different skills. As a parent, playing with your child is great way to strengthen the relationship with your child, especially if you let your child take the lead in the play and you follow your child’s lead. They love it if they can tell you what to do and this is a perfectly appropriate place for them to do it: in their own world. Enter and be humbled by what their play can teach you!