How we develop through play part 3: The impact of play on mental health


The action of playing, by oneself or with friends, is natural to children. All forms and styles of play can have an impact on the personality, physicality and the learning functions of a child. Research has found the style and amount of play to correlate with a child’s mental health.

With the month of August being National Family Fun Month, it is important for families to understand the benefits of play for children in regard to playtime. Finding games and activities to play as a family and other activities a child can play on his or her own, will have benefits toward the mental health of an individual.

Learning through play

Rachel E. White, Ph.D., researches the connections of play and learning in the report, “The Power of Play.” White finds that, “Play makes learning something that happens naturally and joyfully, when a child laughs and wonders, explores and imagines.” Children are similar to sponges, absorbing everything in their surroundings and applying them to other settings later on.

During playtime in which the children create the games and rules, they are found to require a more divergent style of thinking. Children may partake in a divergent style of thinking through certain forms of play since, “There is no single right answer to a divergent problem.” White continues to explain that, “Play has been described as practice in divergent thinking, because in play, children are constantly coming up with new ideas and recombining them to create novel scenarios.” This style also helps a child gain a sense of self-control.

Mental health issues and play

When children are granted the chance to create their own game and play in it, they are able to discover more about themselves and build a sense of self-control. Peter Gray, Ph.D., writes about the connection between a lack of play and a decrease in mental health. Gray explores the effects of parental influence in play. “By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, away from direct adult supervision and control, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives,” Gray explains.

Children need to learn how to explore and create in their own world, discovering who they are and who they want to be; playtime is an outlet for children. Gray relates the levels of anxiety and depression to the lack of play in a child’s life introducing a survey published in the Clinical Psychology Review.

Anxiety and Depression, “Correlate significantly with people’s sense of control or lack of control over their own lives,” Gray adds. By losing the opportunity to have control or a say in how they explore and play, children face the increased risk of anxiety and depression.

Children should not be given complete freedom or a lack of supervision, but should be allowed time to be with friends their own age and create their own world.

White River Academy provides treatment and care for troubled boys from ages 12 to 17. The academy follows a boarding school format, offering guidance through a disciplined education program and instilling character values through service projects to promote positive growth. For more information or to register, feel free to call 866-520-0905.

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