PLAY: Promoting Lifetime Achievement for Youth

By Rubina Haroutonian, M.A., LMFT, RPT

What is Play?

It’s easy for adults to underestimate play as merely an insignificant or juvenile way for children to pass the time.  In actuality, play is a core foundation for the long-term developmental stages of healthy childhood to adulthood. According to the Association for Play Therapy, play is a way of “being with the child that honors their unique developmental level and looks for ways of helping in the ‘language’
of the child, play.” Play is how children express themselves, with the toys used in play functioning as words and language. Both healthy and beneficial, play reduces stress and promotes valuable learning and problem-solving skills.

Skill-Building Through Play

Through play, children learn to communicate with and relate to others.  Play allows children to express feelings, modify behavior, and develop problem-solving skills for life. While building with blocks, playing games or being physically active, children experience a safe psychological distance from problems, allowing the expression of thoughts and feelings appropriate to a child’s development. Play is also used to help children cope with difficult emotions as well as to find new solutions to problems.

Children can develop important social skills through play, such as: sharing, taking turns, self-discipline and tolerance of others. Creative play further enhances children’s imaginations. Likewise, play assists in emotional and intellectual development and mental health resilience.  These factors are core building blocks for children in their transitional years into young adulthood. Likewise, play helps to build a vital connection between child and parent/caregiver.


The Many Benefits of Play

  • Self-Expression
  • Trust and attachment
  • Healthy relationships
  • Greater empathy and social competence
  • Problem-solving skills
  • External expression of internal world
  • Connection with others
  • Regulation while learning new skills
  • Self and other awareness
  • Social/Emotional development
  • Responsibility
  • Respect and acceptance of self and others
  • Strengthening social bonds and skills as a family
  • Builds imagination
  • Mental Health resilience


Play Protects Against Mental Health Disorders

In addition to the benefits previously mentioned, play also helps children to cope with the following: anxiety disorders, depression, obsessive- compulsive disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity, autism
spectrum, oppositional defiant and conduct disorders, anger management, crisis
and trauma, and grief and loss. Play also helps children to cope with and process divorce and family dissolution, developmental/physical and learning disabilities, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, and natural disasters.  Play helps kids to build resilience in the midst of the many challenges they may face in their early years of development on into adulthood.

How to Play

There is no right or wrong way to play with your child!  While navigating these difficult times as a parent, be aware of providing a loving, caring presence with your children. Due to all of the many changes that children have recently experienced related to Covid-19, it is imperative to be as available and present to your child in this time as possible. Playing with your child will help to calm their nervous system! As a result, better regulated kids will be better able to handle challenges when they arise.  Spend uninterrupted, quality time playing and talking with your child each day, and in doing so, you’ll see the benefits of your investment. Designate special time with your child without looking at or checking devices.  By doing this, you will fill your child’s love tank. Now more than ever, children need to feel safe, secure, soothed and seen.

If you found this helpful, check out the following: Parenting in Pandemic Times