The importance of play in a pandemic

By Amy Steele

Youth First

Children are feeling the mental stress from the prolonged effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have experienced quite a bit of change and uncertainty. By now, they probably understand that the pandemic and stresses related to it are not going away as quickly as was once hoped. For young children, this level of stress, tension and not knowing what will happen next in the world is all they have known in their lives.

Learning to cope with change and uncertainty is a life skill. Most kids get to practice this skill on a smaller scale when they are young; as they get older, the challenges get harder. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Teaching children coping skills – tools to help them express their feelings in healthy ways and help themselves feel better – are ways to help them to get through hard times throughout life. Play at any age is a powerful coping skill and is beneficial for parents and children to do together.

Children need to be playing, imagining and doing hands-on activities, now more than ever. They need some quality time where they can do this with a parent or parents. The benefits of this type of play are far-reaching for the child and the parent.

Play is the most natural way that children express themselves; many of their joys, worries, fears and other emotions come out in their play. Play helps them to communicate experiences and feelings to their parents.

Play is a time when a child can feel empowered and in control, which is especially important during pandemic times when so much has been out of their control. Letting the child lead the play with the parents following along, playing as the child requests, is fun for them and also a growing opportunity.

Play relieves feelings of stress and boredom. Boredom often leads to time filled with electronics by children and adults. Boredom is also said to be the birthplace of creativity. Letting a child get a little bored, without electronics, can provide space for imagination and creativity to take flight.

Play is vital to social and emotional wellbeing in children and adults. When you play with your child, you are giving them your time – loving, undivided attention that all children desire. These same feelings of connection and loving attention are reciprocated back to you as a parent, which is also good for your mental health.

The emotional benefits of sharing time together with your child in play can help both of you cope in these difficult and uncertain times. Imaginative play, or organized play such as games, help parents and children connect, enjoy fun and laughs together, and strengthens their mental health. Have you played with your child today? 

Amy Steele, LCSW, LAC, RPT, is the Youth First school social worker at Resurrection Catholic School in Evansville.