Children’s play, an important tool for mental health while growing up

Play occupies a very important place in a child’s life. For many researchers, in addition to creating knowledge and developing new behaviors, it helps to promote emotional well-being. But in recent decades, children’s living conditions have changed significantly, especially through the early introduction of new information technologies, the reduction in interactions between children of different ages and the increase in time spent sitting instead of playing freely outside. A new study by researchers at the University of Cambridge says these moments are real social and emotional as they lead to better mental health as children get older. Specifically, the study published in the journal Child psychiatry and human development shows that children who learn to play well with their peers at the age of three are likely to have better mental health when they grow up.

To reach this conclusion, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 1,700 children, collected when they were three and seven years old. It turns out that those who showed better playing skills with their peers at the age of three showed fewer signs of poor mental health four years later. The latter in particular tended to have lower hyperactivity, with parents and teachers reporting fewer behavioral and emotional problems and also being less likely to quarrel with other children. It is important that this protective bond be maintained even for children at particular risk for mental health problems or those with additional risk factors such as poverty and mental illness of serious mothers during or just after pregnancy. Based on this finding, the researchers recommend that children at risk for poor mental health have preferential access to playgroups led by early childhood specialists to help them protect themselves from future mental health problems.

Note: quality takes precedence over quantity

How can this beneficial effect be explained? Researchers assume that by playing with others, young children learn the skills needed to form strong friendships as they grow and start school. So even though they are at risk of poor mental health, these friendship networks will allow them to cope. ” What matters is quality, not quantity. Play with peers who, for example. encourages children to cooperate, or activities that encourage sharing will have positive effects. says Vicky Yiran Zhao, first author of the study. By peer-to-peer play, the science team believes imaginative pretend play, goal-oriented activities (like building a tower out of blocks) and collaborative play as a hide-and-seek game. “Peer play” is defined as a child’s ability to engage with peers in a playful way.The researchers calculated the strength of the relationship between this goal and reported symptoms of possible mental problems, hyperactivity and behavioral and emotional problems at the age of seven.

Also to discover:Help, he can not play alone!

Overall, children with a higher score for peer play at the age of three showed consistently fewer signs of mental health problems at the age of seven. For each unit with an increase in peer play ability at age three, children’s measured scores for hyperactivity problems at age seven decreased by 8.4%, behavioral problems by 8%, emotional problems by 9.8%, and problems with other children by 14%. “ The consistent link between peer play and mental health probably exists because playing with others promotes the development of emotional self-control and sociocognitive skills, such as the ability to understand and respond to the feelings of others. “add the researchers, who also believe that” these are fundamental to building stable and reciprocal friendships. This finding is in line with other studies that have already shown that the better a person’s social relationships, the better their mental health.

But for children, this trait is all the more important as strong social bonds create a vicious circle as they generally lead to more opportunities for peer play. This is why the researchers suggest that assessing children’s access to play with other children at an early age can be used to screen those who are at risk for future mental health problems. “ We could focus much more on giving children better opportunities to play with their peers. There are already some amazing initiatives, led by professional day care workers. Our results show how crucial their work is, especially as the other risk factors that endanger children’s mental health can often be due to circumstances beyond the parents’ control.. concludes the scientific team. It is more important than ever to ensure that these playtimes are taken seriously right now, as social interactions have been very limited during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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