How play strengthens your child’s mental health

Playful moments are essential for your little one’s emotional well-being.

How play strengthens your child’s mental health
20 June 2022

Play is how young children learn and make sense of the world around them. While they are having fun, they are working on critical parts of their development like building motor, cognitive, social and emotional skills. But the power of play extends beyond early learning: it also plays a key role in building your child’s mental health – and yours too! Learn why making time for playtime is both a fun and healthy thing to do.

>>Read: The science of play

Children who play regularly with their parents are less likely to develop anxiety, depression, aggression and sleep problems.

Play helps to strengthen the bond between you and your child

Sharing in joyful moments of fun and learning helps bring children and their caregivers closer together. As your little one's first playmate, you have the ability to provide opportunities for learning and connection right at home. When you play together, you get to see the world from your child’s perspective.

By providing your child with love, comfort and attention, you are laying the foundation for the development of emotional and social skills that support their mental health and future well-being.

Play helps reduce stress levels

Playing games, dancing and singing are great ways to relieve stress for both your child and you. When you’re enjoying fun moments and laughing together, your body releases endorphins that promote a feeling of well-being.

Even short periods of play together can serve as a powerful reminder for adults of their ability to support their child, and gives you an opportunity to forget about work or other commitments.

Research has also shown that making time for play even protects children from the negative impacts of prolonged exposure to stress. Long periods of stressful situations can affect a child’s physical and mental health. Play and positive, supportive relationships with adults can help buffer these effects.

>>Watch: How children can develop toxic stress

Play helps children process difficult emotions

When children are dealing with complex emotional issues, it often shows up in their play. Giving children space to play allows them to work through feelings such as pain, fear or loss while being able to still act like a child. Play gives them a way to express things they are struggling with that they don’t yet have the words to fully explain. By recreating painful events repeatedly through imaginative play, little ones are trying to understand the impact of what has happened. For example, if your child has witnessed two adults fighting, they may recreate this conflict with their dolls.

>>Read: How to recognize signs of distress in children
>>Read: How to talk to your child about the death of a loved one

Play helps to build confidence

Solving problems and coming up with creative solutions during a game or while working on a puzzle give children a sense of accomplishment and competence. When you take time to play with your child, your little one is learning that they are valued and fun to be around. It is important that you give your full attention during playtime and invest in the game you are playing together. Sharing in the experience together lets your child know that they are loved and important – so smile, get involved and enjoy every moment!  

Want to learn more about the power of play? Looking for inspiration for games and activities? Visit The Playbox for tips and ideas for having fun with your little one!

This article was developed with support from our friends at LEGO Foundation.