Child Development through Play

Children are born with a natural desire to play and explore. It is through this important “work” that they develop skills and learn about the world around them. As a parent you play the most important role in helping and encouraging your child’s play and exploration. Play is crucial to brain development andsupports the development of attention, concentration, motor skills, social skills and language. Play also helps to buildchildren’s resilience. Resilient children have a more secure and positive view of themselves and the world, as well as more adaptive coping skills when faced with stress and challenges. Play is a key feature in helping children learn about emotions as well as how to manage them. Young children cannot regulate their own emotions and so they rely on parents to co-regulate with them. This can be done duringplay when a child gets big emotions e.g. anger, or frustration. A parent that models a calm emotion-regulating response during this time is teaching their child to understand, accept and manage these big emotions.

Play provides space to develop a secure parent-child relationship which is essential to early development. Children respond best when their parent is fully engaged with them. Being fully engaged with your child means avoiding distractions particularly your mobile phone, and being fully attentive to them. Sit facing your child when you play and make eye contact.  Your child loves to see your face and your emotions reactions. Follow their lead and their interests; be curious about what they are doing and incorporate nurturing touch such as hugs, a rub on the back or a special handshake. Talk to your child using simple language during play.  This shows them that you are interest and tuned into what they are doing and such narrative is important for the development oflanguage skills.

The need to play and communicate begins at birth andcontinues right through life. A baby that is smiling, gigglingand looking at their parents’ face is playing and learning. Play changes as the child grows and looks different at different ages and stages. Between the ages of 0 and 4, sensory andmessy play allows the child to explore using touch, sight, smells and sounds. Messy play is not always the easiest for parents but it is incredibly important for eye-hand coordination and motor skills. Tough as it may seem, try to grin and bear the play-doh, paints, gloop, magic sand etc. and tackle the mess later when the valuable learning experience is over.

Around the age of 4 or 5 years, narrative play takes centre stage. Children use stories and characters, like the princess or superhero, to explore and retell scenarios. They may use their imagination to immerse themselves in the story. Role play allows children to take on roles they see in everyday life;mum, dad, teacher, doctor etc. All of these types of narrativeplay encourage children to think about and consider othersperspectives. They encourage the exploration of cause and effect as well as problem solving and the development of empathy.

As children get older they develop more independence in their play. They enjoy social play with peers and going to friends’ houses. With this play, they are learning to understand and adjust to social norms and rules, co-operate and negotiate with others, as well as developing their listening, communication and problem-solving skills.  Although independence should be supported, children will still seek out parental involvement and support at times.  Be ready when called on!

Primary Care Child and Family Psychology Service, incollaboration with ABC Start Right Limerick, are delivering an online parenting workshop on “The Power of Supporting Your Child’s Development Through Play” on 17th October, 10.00-11.30am. This workshop is for parents, caregivers or guardians of children aged 0 – 10. To attend contact Miranda (087-677-6096) or Elisha (087-9734925).

This article was written by Elisha Minihan, Psychology Assistant with HSE Primary Care Child and Family Psychology Service. The Child and Family Psychology Service are members of Parenting Limerick.