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The Importance of Playtime

If you recall your childhood, how do you remember it? For me, I remember playing outside on our playset, making mudpies with my best friend, swimming and playing house with my sisters. We would spend hours playing school, house and going grocery shopping with our play kitchen. No – I am not trying to paint an ideal childhood, but I am trying to point out the power of play.

Developmental research suggests that play is not a suggested, but rather a vital part of childhood. Studies have proven that children that engage in imaginary play have better problem solving abilities, better verbal skills and higher IQ’s than peers that engage in more structured activities

In his book, “How Children Thrive”, Marc Bertin discusses the importance of allowing play and open ended, unstructured time to facilitate regulated, calmer children. With the emphasis on executive functioning, he points out key components of setting important boundaries, while creating an environment that allows children to work through their boredom and self-regulate their feelings.

In today’s world of having a constant flow of information and schedules, everyone prides themselves on being ‘busy’. When I ask myself, “How are you?” I find myself answering, “I am so busy.” When did this become something that we pride ourselves on?

That being said, the #1 emotion kids acknowledge is being “bored.” How do you feel when mom tells you no? “Bored.” “What did you do today,” “Nothing – it  was boring.”

As parents, we need to come together and make a commitment to give our children a childhood. In a society that pushes college placement and adult concerns on our youth, with the competition being a constant in their lives, we need to make sure we are also teaching them balance. How can they take care of themselves when things get too hard?

We aren’t doing that by signing them up for every structured classes, filling their afternoons with activities and not allowing them to schedule their own time and make their own choices.

One of the things that makes adults successful is having time management. For anyone who has read the book “The 5am Club, a lot of very successful people are able to manage their time and commitments. While we don’t need to get up at 5 am necessarily, we do need to know how to prioritize our time.

This starts with our childhood. Planning. Organizing. Creating. Spending time with nothing to do helps our children navigate and learn life skills. They are able to learn how to self-regulate moving onto the next activity, or how to manage frustration when their tower doesn’t work out.

I have talked about play spaces and organization before in my blog. We have also talked a lot about the stress response. I truly believe that if we are able to make this change and set boundaries with our children today, we will see calmer, more regulated, happier children.

As a parent, and a child and family therapist, I know how important it is to set our children up for success. I challenge you schedule 1 or 2 nights a week when you create “white” space in their calendar for play. Then reflect: Can you see a difference in them? Are they able to sleep better or do they seem calmer? Are they agitated because they don’t know what to do to fill their time? Help them work through it. Their brain will thank you.