The role of play in post-pandemic healing
By Kristen Estrella, LCSW and Konstantin Lukin, Ph.D.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it couldn’t come at a more suitable time. The weather is getting warmer, the school year is drawing to a close, and it’s time for a well-deserved springtime mental health wake-up call. I think we can agree that this year has taken its toll on our mental health, especially on one of our most vulnerable populations: children.
Source: Getty Images: fizkes
In my practice with children and families, I have seen increased anxiety, depression, irritability, loneliness, stress, and behavioral issues. Children who were once playful, active and social have switched to electronics, such as video games, video games, phones and iPads to try and stay in touch with their peers and cope with pandemic boredom.
I often hear the struggles of parents who feel powerless to set boundaries with technology due to the challenges of balancing work from home, online education, and parenting. While it may have been necessary for survival, it also came at a cost. Many of us, children and adults alike, seem to have lost our sense of the game. Additionally, the addictive and numbing nature of electronics exacerbates mental health problems and negatively impacts attention, mood and performance. The behaviour.
As the world reopens, it’s more important than ever to help kids disconnect from the virtual world and reconnect to the real world. In addition, children need an opportunity to heal from a year of collective mourning and grieving. For children, play is essential for social and emotional well-being. We all play before we learn to speak, so play is the most natural vehicle for self-expression for children. Play allows children to externalize the inner world, communicate their feelings and experiences, feel connected and secure, regulate their emotions, and deal with difficult life events.
Play promotes healing. That’s why it’s time to put electronics aside and get back to our roots with some good old school gaming. Here are some tips to awaken and ignite the playful spirit of our children:
1. Program the reading time.
We make time for the activities that we enjoy, and scheduling time to play indicates that it is a priority. Since this can be a change in the house, it can be helpful to discuss recess at a family reunion. When children feel like they are part of the process, they are less likely to resist. Plus, kids are natural game experts, so allow them to share their expertise.
2. Make room for a “special moment”.
“Special time” is 5-10 minutes of play during which your child chooses which toys to play and you follow their lead. It gives children the opportunity to feel empowered and in control. This is especially important in a year when a lot is out of their control. Plus, giving your child your undivided attention helps your child feel special and gives them the opportunity to connect. When children feel seen and heard, they are more likely to follow your lead in areas outside of play. This is especially important if each school day has felt like a battle.
3. Create an activity wheel or list.
List the toys and activities your child enjoys (except electronics). This will help you avoid the first “don’t know what to do” response to the “go play” directive you give your child. Children sometimes become irritable and frustrated with changes, especially those that involve giving up their beloved electronic devices. The options can facilitate the initial change from electronic time to reading time.
4, leave space for boredom.
Boredom is the cradle of creativity and therefore, an important feeling to live and to work. If your child has consumed too much electronics this year, you can expect boredom to be an uncomfortable feeling for them due to the immediacy in which electronics solve boredom. The decrease in electronic use allows us to wake up our imaginations and opens our minds to the different possibilities that can only arise when we are a little bored.
Source: Getty Images: fizkes
5. Be silly.
Stupidity is both cathartic and contagious. Channel your inner child by listening to music and having a dance party with your child. Spontaneity and silliness are best fostered when we leave board games in their boxes and allow time for unstructured play.
6. Go out.
Going out eliminates the temptation to sneak onto the iPad and allows for an easier transition to physical and social play. Bringing your child to the park also gives them the chance to practice their social skills with their peers and get back on track with their development. Plus, fresh air and exercise do wonders for mood due to the mind-body connection.
The best part about awakening your child’s sense of playfulness is that it will rekindle yours too! Gambling has positive effects on adult mental health due to its rejuvenating and relaxing nature. Additionally, when we experience mutual joy, we feel less isolated and more connected, which is more important than ever after a year of disconnection.