Benefits of Play
When you respond to your baby’s needs and talk and play with them, you support brain development and increase oxytocin (the feel good hormone). This means that your baby will have a better start in life and is more likely to be settled, happier and quicker to comfort. The strong bond you build will help them make healthy relationships with others as they grow up too.
Even the tiniest babies learn by watching and ‘chatting’ with the people close to them. The more you talk and play with them every day the better!
Toddlers are often balls of energy who want to know more about the world around them. Many are finding out what their bodies can do and are enjoying new sounds and words. Playing with people they are safe with and that they trust, gives them confidence to explore and try new things.
Play makes learning fun; there is no need for expensive toys and outings. Children value time with you the most.
Children whose parents and carers play, talk, sing and read with them do better at school. School is a big step for children. It is easier for them to settle and they are more ready to learn if they can;
- Are able to be understood and understand others.
- Know how to play with others and follow rules.
- Enjoy books, numbers and can concentrate.
- Enjoy being active.
All of this can be learnt and practiced through play.
Playing every day is important. This might be playing with puzzles, games and toys, or activities like cooking and gardening. It is good for your relationship, their self esteem and confidence.
As children grow older they still learn and benefit from play, they still have a lot of life skills to learn and it will come easier when they are having fun. Cooking, gardening, puzzles and games as well as sports and activities are good ways to spend time together.
Relationships between teenagers and parents begin to change during puberty. Having fun together will keep the bond between you strong. It will help keep you 'in the loop' of what is important in their lives. Knowing you want to spend time with them even when it may not feel cool, shows your child that you care and value time with them. This helps their self esteem and confidence. Remember keep offering to do things with them even when they turn you down!
*Click Here* to find out more about communicating with older children.
Things That Get In The Way
Knowing the importance of play gives us the chance to have fun with our children, however other things can get in the way. Families have told us they sometimes find it difficult play.
Life can be very busy when you are raising a family and it can feel like play is another thing you have to do. Luckily play can fit in around other things as it is really about being together and having fun. Children learn a lot from everyday things. So you can play anywhere.
- A walk to the shops can go more quickly if you are racing between the lamp posts, stomping like a dinosaur, or just counting how many red cars you see.
- Doing household chores can be fun. You can have your child playing with plastic pots at the sink, helping with the washing up, or you could play restaurants at tea time.
- Older children like to help cook, or you could do a YouTube keep fit or dance video together – it will make you both feel good.
Playing together does not have to take long – it can happen in short bursts and alongside other things.
Remember play is valuable and it is good for the whole family. Try and put it at the top of the to-do list sometimes.
Everyone is different. Some people find it easier to let their ‘silly side out’ than others. Your baby or child is unlikely to think you are silly – and if they do they will think it is great.
Watch other people out and about with their children – when you see them having fun together do you think it looks silly or like a great time?
Some people say they find talking and singing to babies and children a bit embarrassing. Practice at home first and build your confidence. You will see your child responding and then it will be easier to build into a habit.
All play and chat with children does not have to be loud and silly. Being with your child whilst they workout a new skill and you encourage them is just as important. Maybe another parent, a sibling or someone else your child loves enjoys doing the loud play?
Parents bring their different personalities and skills to playing with their child and they are all valuable. It is being with your child and helping them explore and understand the world around them that counts.
Fun doesn’t need to cost money!
There are so many adverts for toys and equipment for babies and children. It can put a lot of pressure on parents to spend money and you can’t even be sure your child will like that toy or play with it for more than a few days.
A lot of toys available today do one ‘clever’ thing but don’t give much chance for children to use them in different ways and use their imagination. People often talk about children playing with the box the expensive toy came in. That happens because it gives children the freedom to play how they want to.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money, look around your house – there will be things your child can play with;
- Pots, pans boxes and packets can make musical instruments, pretend shops or beds for teddies.
- Old handbags, shoes and clothes for dressing up.
- Blankets and towels for peekaboo or building dens.
- Empty bottles and containers for rattles and bath time play.
Charity shops and hand me downs are a good way to find toys and books. Check them carefully to make sure they are in good safe condition.
Do toy ‘swaps’ with friends so your children can try different toys without a big spend – that way you can see which ones really hold their attention.
You might feel under pressure to take children on expensive trips to zoos or theme parks. These can be lovely special treats. If doing these things causes you money worries, it can cause a lot of stress. There are lots of things you can do on a budget. You may find your best days are when you go out splashing in puddles, looking for shells at the beach, or feed the ducks at the park.
Some parents tell us that they aren’t sure how to play with their child. This is not surprising. As we grow up we can get out of the habit of play.
The good news is your child will lead the way. Play is really about time together, talking, laughing and tuning in to your child’s interests and helping them see what they can do.
- Letting your baby look at your face and copying their expressions and noises is play.
- As your child grows noticing what toy has caught their interest and talking about it and letting them see what it can do is play.
- Stomping in leaves and helping your child climb to the top of the slide is play.
- Story books, colouring, and splashing in the bath are all play.
Let your child take their time exploring things, whilst you make suggestions, and help them try new things. Children are so excited to find things out. Their enthusiasm is catching.
We all want our children to grow up to be confident and independent. Some people worry that if they play with their child they will not learn to play alone.
When children are small they get more of the benefits of play when you are there to help them explore and try new things. They learn about language and communicating from listening and responding to you.
When you join in with play, you can praise and encourage them. This builds confidence and helps them believe in themselves and keep going.
Brothers and sisters can have a lot of fun playing together. Having you join in some of the time helps them learn how to be respectful of each other and work out how to cooperate and get along.
As they grow older it does not have to be either /or. The more time that you spend joining in with your child’s play, the more able they will be to play independently. They will be able to use the skills you have taught them to keep themselves entertained, and will love explaining to you what they have been making, or imagining.
Who Can Help?
You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.
If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.
You can speak to other Norfolk parents and carers by clicking our online community forum below.