How we develop through play part 4: The impact of play on relationships


Throughout this series the concept of play has been applied to the personal and cognitive development of children as well as the impact of play on mental health and learning. One area yet to be explained is the impact of play on social relationships with peers.

How children play can affect their development in these areas and depends on how much freedom in play they are given. Children who have little say in what they play and how they play, can be more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. The interaction between children through play are important to their own relationships and how they treat each other.

Play as a social activity

While there are always times in which children choose to play alone, the social aspects of playing with others can benefit their growth. Rachel E. White, Ph.D., writes about the aspects of social play in the report, “The Power of Play.” White summarizes social play, “As play that occurs in the interaction of children with adults or other children,” highlighting that “any type of play – object play, pretend play, and physical play – has the potential to be enacted alone or with others.”

This interaction teaches children how to behave with others whether the parents are the ones teaching or the other children are the ones explaining. White explains that, “Parents, especially mothers, are often children’s first play partners.” When a child plays with a parent, there is a chance the parent will control the child’s activities too much. This concept is explored in a study by Ozden Bademci, Ph.D., brought up in part one of this series.

Interaction in play

Playing with parents, the child typically follows the rules set by the parents. In many cases, this is not a terrible or harmful process, since board games and sports are built on structure and rules. Yet, in the realm of pretend or free play, children need to be given a chance to imagine and create their own rules.

White compares, “Parent-child relationships in which parents are typically in charge, peer interactions have a relatively even distribution of power.” Children can benefit from playing with others their own age. One of the most important parts to social play between peers, is that they disagree with each other from time to time. White finds that children face scenarios in which they, “Learn how their own desires may differ from those of another child, how to advocate for their own ideas, how to deal with frustration.” Children learn these problem solving skills through interaction and arguments with other children.

The actions and events which transpire throughout childhood help build the person the child will become. Playing with a child and giving the child free-time to play on his or her own, will benefit the cognitive development of the child.

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