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What children of all ages really need

By Collett Smart - psychologist 1 min read

All levels of play help to develop social-emotional competence and teach children how to interact with adults and peers.

We are made for relationships, and play is one of the ways in which we form connections and build trust with our children.

Play is the “work” of childhood. It’s so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a report on the healing and protective powers of play. They strongly recommend paediatricians “prescribe” play for children and their parents, because it builds safe, stable and nurturing relationships. All levels of play help to develop social-emotional competence and teach children how to interact with adults and peers. Play also promotes language and cognitive development, and enhances brain structure.

Setting aside time to play with your child helps forge bonds and strong foundations for the inevitable tough times. This one-on-one focused time communicates to a child that they matter to you. It also establishes an environment of trust for future conversations on the trickier topics with tweens and teens.

However, the idea of play shouldn’t feel like another duty for parents. Play does not need a set formula or set of rules for it to be effective. Rather, think of play as fitting into your family’s personality, because play will look different for each child, each parent and each personality.

Here are some play ideas:

In the early years

  • Snuggle up with a book together (books can be used as a vehicle for asking further questions and prompting your child to think about others’ feelings or behaviours)
  • Cook or bake together
  • Visit the park or the beach (leaving your phone in your bag)
  • Draw or create
  • Kick a ball in the garden
  • Lie on your child’s bed and simply watch them play with their toys

With tweens and teens:

  • Play a video game together
  • Watch a movie
  • Go for ice-creams or milkshakes
  • Walk the dog
  • Late night hot chocolate
  • Tea on the deck
  • Shop for the new season’s clothes
  • Go on a weekend away
  • Cook                                 

Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher and author with more than 20 years experience. She is mum to three children and appears regularly on national television and radio, as an expert on children and family issues. Collettsmart.com