Tracy Gale, PsyD, HSPP, and Emmaleigh Badeaux, BS |
Play is an essential and cherished part of childhood. As children play, they are building cognitive, social, physical and emotional skills that benefit their growth. Play not only encourages healthy brain development but serves as a protective factor against future emotional difficulties and helps modulate peer relationships. Children can overcome fears, learn to resolve conflicts, practice decision-making skills and gain self-confidence through play. Caregivers who fully engage with their children during play are modeling useful character traits and displaying their unconditional interest and support. Participating in play with children also allows caregivers to provide a safe and supportive environment for children to investigate and explore. Caregiver involvement in child-directed play is essential to healthy brain development!
Participating in play also allows caregivers to practice skills that children may be acquiring in preschool or therapy in a non-threatening and low pressure setting. This is one of the best ways to reinforce skills learned during physical, occupational, speech-language, or behavioral therapies, as it allows for sufficient practice to maintain and improve learned skills. Caregivers are uniquely poised to fulfill this role, as they can provide an environment where children feel confident, thus encouraging continued success and growth.
When engaging in play, remember these tips to promote your child’s development:
- Allow your child to choose the activity and direct the play. Caregivers can provide guidance, but children learn more when they are given freedom to explore.
- Dedicate your time and attention to your child’s play. Try to limit distractions as much as possible.
- Try not to focus on whether your child is playing with a toy in the correct way. Creatively using toys or other objects is an important play skill and encourages cognitive flexibility.
- Do not immediately intervene if your child struggles with something. This is a good opportunity to teach problem-solving and frustration management skills, as well as encourage persistence and confidence in your child.
At Easterseals Crossroads, we offer activities that help families and children play, relax and engage; view the video below to see how!