According to mentalhealth.org , 1 in 10 children suffer from some sort of mental health issue. This is a surprisingly large number of children!
Although there is no direct proof that the current technology-driven era is contributing to this large number, it’s no secret that children seem to be spending a lot more time in front of screens than in the past.
As parents, teachers and care-takers, it is our responsibility to raise children in a way that gives them the best possible chance to live without mental health issues. Making sure that they have plenty of opportunity to play can help.
Why is Play So Important?
It isn’t difficult to recognize the physical needs of children. Provide them with food, shelter, exercise, healthcare, and a safe space to live and sleep.
However, figuring out what children need to develop strong mental health is not as obvious. You might be surprised to find out that “Play” is an important key.
Play is how children learn who they are, test their strengths and boundaries, and figure out how the world works.
According to research done on brain development, play actually shapes the structural design of the brain. Play creates a brain that has increased “flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life.”
Ways to Help Children Develop Strong Mental Health
Some of the things a child needs to form a strong foundation for their current and future mental health are:
- Unconditional love from their family
- Safe and secure environment and surroundings
- Teachers and caregivers that encourage them
- Appropriate guidance and discipline
- Positive conversations that build up self-confidence and self-esteem
- Play with other children- structured and unstructured
Play is a natural thing to do for children. The job of the adult is to make sure the child has plenty of opportunity to do so.
What is Structured Play?
Just as it sounds, Structured Play is time to play that includes rules or boundaries. This is usually any type of intentional game or activity. Typically, there is a goal to reach (ex: build something with Legos or win a game of Tag).
Structured play can foster:
- Leadership tendencies
- Team building and teamwork
- Improved listening skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Goal-setting and meeting a goal
What is Unstructured Play?
Also known as “Free Play”, Unstructured Play is when the child leads the activity and there are no set rules or structured games. The goal is to truly let the child decide what to do with the time and how they spend it.
Structured Play/Free Play can foster:
- Positive feelings like joy, thrill, competency
- Imagination and creativity
- Resilience- they learn how to handle different situations, how to cope with various outcomes, and how to continue playing when there is uncertainty or challenges
- Attention span- can increase how long a child can pay attention to tasks. This is especially helpful with children who have a hard time maintaining focus for a long period of time.
- Social interaction- allows them to develop proper social cues and learn how to develop and maintain healthy relationships. They learn to compromise and cooperate with other children.
- Fewer undesirable behaviors like bullying. Free play teaches children how to control aggression and regulate feelings of anger and frustration.
How to Provide Unstructured Play for Children
This is the easiest part. Simply give the child a safe environment and let them play! Try not to interfere unless their safety is at risk. A room with toys works well but a great place to take them is a playground.
Playgrounds provide the perfect environment to allow children the freedom to play with no boundaries and to use their own imagination and free will to choose what they will do. They can use the actual playground structure to inspire their own games and imaginative play.
To view playground projects that will inspire the creative side of your child’s mind, click here to visit our Gallery.
Commit to a Strong Mental Health Foundation for Your Child
There are several ways that you can guide your child to lifelong good mental health. Teaching your child about feelings and emotions and being aware of their actions and behaviors.
Show them that it’s okay to struggle as long as they learn how to work through those problems.
Teach them about relationships by being someone that they can trust. Allow them to learn how to problem-solve on their own (with your guidance).
And lastly, you can encourage their creativity and other life-skills by playing with them and also allowing time for Free Play. Doing these things can’t guarantee that your child will live a life without any mental health problems, but it can guarantee that you have done everything to help guide them in a positive direction.