Modern living is fast pace and stressful. Adults and adolescents are not the only ones who experience this pressure, so do children. Adults and adolescents are generally able to express their stress through talking; however, children use free play to release stress as they find it more difficult to verbally express themselves.
Free play is any type of play that requires the child to think creatively and to apply themselves. Free play includes imagining scenarios and re-enacting them. Drawing, painting or playing interactive games (such as ‘catches’ or ‘duck-duck-goose’) are also examples of free play . Children express their feelings indirectly through free play. If a child is feeling an emotion that they feel is too difficult to express or to cope with, they may re-enact a scenario (in play) in which they would control the play outcomes. This type of play helps the child feel less stressed as the child is able to control the play.
Everyday pressures, such as school, home, social media and peer pressure (to name a few), constantly play on your child’s mind. A child needs to learn other skills which are vital in their development and the release of stress. One of the methods of achieving this is through free play. A child’s development can be hampered by the excessive use of technology, social media platforms, as well as other daily stresses.
With so many daily distractions and stresses surrounding your child, here are 4 tips on how to encourage free play:
1. Limit the use of technology that your child has access to
Computers, television, iPads and cell phones are not necessary for young children to have constant access to. A child should not be sitting in front of the television for more than an hour a day. Rather encourage your child to play with their toys or outside in the garden (with supervision).Technology is distracting to a child and thus it does not allow the child to process emotions in a healthy way. Spending more time with your child and allowing them to explore the environment or play is more beneficial.
2. Do not let your children fool you into entertaining them
We have all heard the line “BUT MOM I’M BORED”. It is not your responsibility to entertain your children; they should be encouraged to think for themselves. Children will become reliant on parents to sort out their boredom at first and then later expect their parents to solve most of their problems. Independency and problem solving are lessons learnt by children who use creative thinking and imagination to keep themselves occupied. This causes the child to feel less stressed as they will feel confident in their own abilities and thinking.
3. Stimulation is key
Provide your child with adequate tools (toys, books, paper, crayons, chalk, board games, dolls, balls, etc.) to play with. It does not have to be the latest or most expensive toys or board games. Usually the simpler the better. Most parents know the feeling of buying an expensive toy and coming home to their child playing with a box instead of the toy. The stimulation from some of the objects usually grab the child’s attention and allow the child to immerge themselves in play.
Discuss the games that you used to play as a child. If parents explain to their children some of the old games that they use to play when they were little (such as ‘stuck in the mud’ or ‘cops and robbers’), it may encourage their children to try those games and to come up with games of their own. If you have an only child try organise play dates or if your child prefers their own company then provide your child with activities that they may partake in by themselves (such as art, blocks, dolls, action figures etc.).