PLAYTIME, contrary to what some people think, is educational. Not only is it fun for children, but they also pick up a variety of skills that cannot be taught by a teacher in a classroom.
Playtime is especially important for children who face mental health issues, said child therapist Priscilla Ho.
These children, whom she describes as “challenging”, need playtime with their parents joining in.
“Playtime is very important for children as it helps them to develop their creativity and coping skills when faced with difficulties. Play is the child’s language and toys are their words, ” she told StarEdu.
She said nowadays, both parents work, resulting in them spending less time playing with their children.
Citing a survey done in August by Toys"R"Us Malaysia, the international toy, baby and education retailer, she said many parents do not spend much time playing with their children.
The survey carried out on 4,807 Malaysian parents found that 33.4% spent an average of just one to four hours per week of unstructured playtime with their children.
“Children are often left in daycare after school, which is a thriving business now.
“But children are rarely resting or playing at daycare nowadays as they are usually busy completing their homework – all this after spending long hours in school, ” she said, adding that the lack of playtime results in mental pressure in children.
Children who lack unstructured play or have little opportunity to free play will show signs of anxiety, stress and low self-esteem, she added.
She said these children tend to seek the approval of adults as they are anxious about whether they are doing things right and may not even want to play or learn at all.
To prevent this, Ho said parents should spend more time playing with their children.
More so now that many are having to work from home. She, however, has noticed the opposite happening.
“Many parents are stressed out during the pandemic and movement control order (MCO) because they are not used to their children, who are usually at the babysitter or the daycare centre, being home, ” she said, advising parents to take the opportunity to connect with their children during the pandemic.
She said coming up with a timetable that specifically allocates at least an hour of bonding time with each parent every week is an effective way to keep their children from developing mental health issues.
Dubbing these slots as “special time”, Ho said it can be used to do any sort of interactive activity including cooking, baking and playing board games.
If their children are losing focus, parents can switch to unstructured play activities which allow children to experiment and enjoy a sense of freedom and control while developing their imagination, creativity and empathy.
“Children engaging in unstructured play learn to problem-solve, use executive functioning, exercise creativity and imagination, navigate social interaction, and develop independence, ” she said.
Therapeutic play for challenging children is also necessary and should be part of “special time”, she said, adding that it is not about “playing aimlessly” but playing with the intention to foster a closer bond between parent and child.
“When parents play with their children, the connection builds trust, ” she said.
Parents, she said, may even end up learning more about themselves.
Global Oak Tree Scholars International School head of preschool Chithra Nair agrees.
She said play helps children’s emotional well-being, besides growing their cognitive, social and physical abilities.
“There are more families today who have two working parents, sometimes a single head of a household, ” she said, adding that this limits the time parents have with their children because of work expectations and constraints.
A child’s mental well-being is further affected when parents push their children into becoming overachievers, enrolling them in many out-of-home activities to meet societal pressures.
“This further reduces the time parents have with their children, ” she said, adding that playing with their children allows parents to see the world through their children’s eyes. Trust, love, care and respect are life lessons that result, she said.
These precious moments of parent-child bonding cannot be replaced or replicated as they help build enduring relationships, she said.
“Play, both structured and unstructured, begins from the day a baby is born.
“Wrapping your infant’s finger around your own and making gurgling sounds with different expressions are part of play.”
While there is no “one way” to play, Chithra said unstructured play is suitable for bonding activities.
“Unstructured play allows for children to create and explore a world they can master, for example through role-playing, they may be able to conquer their fears, ” she said.
Chithra suggested busy parents incorporate play into everything a child does, including chores. But she stressed that the fun stuff should not be forgotten either.
Age-appropriate toys are also necessary.
For example, Chitra said outdoor toys such as tricycles, balance beams and simple construction toys using large blocks and large picture puzzles are suitable for toddlers.
“This allows for their fine motor control to be developed and for their curiosity to grow.
“Parents who are stumped for ideas can just revisit their childhood and introduce the games they played as children.”
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