Three Reasons to “Just Play” with Your Child

I’m a busy parent who works hard to take care of my family. I do my best to keep the house clean, help the older children with homework, walk the dog, and pay the bills. Often when I’m in the middle of something else, my youngest child will come up to me and ask, “can you play with me?” My immediate reaction is usually “not now” or “go play with your brother.” Why should I take time to play with my child?

I hear you! With all you have to do, why should you take time to “just play”? In my work as a play therapist and family therapist in Bethesda, MD, I teach parents that “just playing” is much more than just playing — it is a vital part of healthy child development and thriving family relationships.

“Just playing” with your child is an important way to bond. It is a chance for you to show care and attention toward them and their interests. Regular family playtime will let your child know that they matter to you and create warm memories of you for your child to keep forever.  Playing together teaches your child the vital lesson that, “People who love you should spend time with you and pay attention to what you enjoy”.

“Just playing” with your child will help build social and cognitive skills. All kinds of play provide opportunities for your child to practice social skills such as turn-taking, impulse control, compromise, problem-solving, empathy, emotion regulation, imagination, and the list goes on! Within many games are also chances to practice cognitive skills such as solving puzzles, math, reading, self-monitoring, and mental planning. Practicing all of these skills within the safety of play can take off the pressure of social anxiety and grades to allow your child to think calmly and try new ways of approaching problems.

“Just playing” with your child allows them to work through stress. In the same way that adults talk to others about problems to “get it out” and come up with solutions, children express their emotions and work through problems using their play. Instead of verbally telling the story to work things out, which requires a level of brain development children simply do not have, children naturally use a more developmentally appropriate strategy of telling their story through their play narratives and imagination. This works especially well because the parts of our brains that store our emotions are the same parts involved in imaginative play! In fact, playing it out often works very well for adults too!

This post was written by Anna White, child therapy specialist, family therapist, and parent coach in Bethesda, MD.

Call me today for your free consultation and see for yourself the ways that play opens up new, positive ways of being with your child!