In our Kids Matter parenting programme (session 3) we talk about the importance of play in families – that when we (mums, dads and carers) play with our children we are helping them to: develop social skills (as they learn to get along with others), language skills and co-odination and balance; learn about winning, losing, taking turns and sharing; use their imagination and channel their physical energy in a positive way; better understand their feelings; strengthen the bond between us and them (laughter is good for reducing stress and strengthening relational ties).
Equally, it’s important for children to play with one another. Dr Hayley Van Zwanenberg, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Priory’s Wellbeing Centre in Oxford, says that positively encouraging children to play and exercise together will bring significant developmental benefits; “For young children, time with their friends is really important; they need to be developing their social skills and playing is a way of them tackling difficult times. For example, when they play they can become superheroes and feel invincible.”
Playing with friends was the most normal thing in the world six months ago. Not anymore. Lockdown changed everything. Whilst there are children who have been back at school and able to see their friends, and others whose families have created ad hoc ‘bubbles’ in their local frienship circles enabling children to play together, there are still many children who are anxious, low in mood and mourning the summer plans (play dates, picnics even walks outside) robbed by coronavirus.
Dr Van Zwaneberg goes on to say that there are children who are deeply anxious about socialising, being outside their house and leaving family members indoors – and that this temperament is on the increase.
So, what can we do? How can we, as parents, ensure that our children, who realistically, will not be socialising on a major level this summer, are prepared for the changed world in which they now find themselves?
Dr van Zwanenberg has five top tips for using play to help children re-adjust to life after lockdown:
- Children learn lots from role-playing with adults or other children. Parents can role play certain scenarios with their children, to teach them new social skills they might not have practiced for a while, for example; ‘Let’s pretend we are friends going to play at the playground and there is only one swing and we both want to go on it’. They can ‘role play’ how the child should respond and share. This sort of role playing can teach children so much. They have to solve a problem and think about what is right and wrong and fair, and communicate all this.
- Parents can role-play scenarios that are going to be different now than when they were pre-lockdown, for example going to the supermarket and having to walk one way around it and leave space between themselves and others in the queue. It will then not be so confusing for children when they experience this.
- Buy ‘social story’ books. These are often used for young people on the autistic spectrum. They describe common social scenarios young people might find themselves in, and how they should be handled. They lead to discussion and could be helpful for young people if parents feel they will struggle with a return to normal social situations or changed ones.
- Turn taking is an important part of play for young children and often young people find this hard. I would suggest playing family games that involve turn taking so young people get used to coping with this again.
- ‘Emotion reading’ games can be a fun and useful game to play with your child. Write down an emotion on a piece of paper and take it in turns to act them out with body language and facial expressions. Often difficulties in the playground occur due to young people misreading each other’s body language.
Kids Matter is a programme that engages with families and young children before crisis point – it strengthens families by giving mums and dads the tools to be competent, confident parents or caregivers. To get involved, as a volunteer or by financially supporting our programme, please contact us at email@example.com