The Importance of Play for Children’s Mental Health

Child with toy camera

For children, play is more than simply a means to pass the time; it is also an important component of their mental health and development.

With value arriving in the mental, physical, and emotional realm after mere minutes of play, it has been established as a crucial means of progression for children of all ages.

Play has been demonstrated in studies to be just as crucial to a child's well-being as food, drink, and shelter.

So, in this blog let's look at why play is important for a child's mental health and why it's not just "child's play"

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Naomi Kettner, LPC, NCC

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Margot Bean, LCSW

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Play and Emotional Progression

To begin with, play is an important way for youngsters to learn how to manage their emotions. The play has been demonstrated in studies by the American Academy of Paediatrics to lessen symptoms of anxiety and sadness in children.

By interacting with friends or even playing solo, they are diminishing the effects of depression and anxiety that run so prevalent in our society these days. And, let's face it, we all need a little stress release now and then - even children!

Play helps children to express themselves in a secure and healthy environment, which can help them strengthen their emotional regulation abilities and reduce stress and anxiety.

By engaging in play children are also growing their creativity and imagination.

While on the outside, it will look like they are simply building an imaginary rocketship, in the brains of the little scientists the gears are turning, unlocking new cognitive pathways and helping them to understand the world uniquely and beautifully.

A child's brain is undergoing nearly constant growth, chemical and physical changes. By playing, children can usher in positive creativity, change, and use.

By activating every part of the brain, they are ensuring future brain health and efficiency.

Social Skills

Play can assist with more than simply emotional management.

Play also allows youngsters to practice social skills such as collaboration, sharing, and turn-taking.

If you have ever considered building a rocket ship, you will know how much teamwork is necessary.

The amazing thing about their imaginative endeavors is that they are actually working on the building blocks of the skills they will need, in the future, as adults to work on actual projects.

Who knows, maybe the make-believe rocket ships they build will carry over into a real job at Nasa designing the next shuttle to head to Mars.

According to research published in the Journal of Research in Childhood Education, toddlers who played with their peers on a daily basis showed greater levels of social competence than those who did not.

As the parents of these beautiful, young astronauts, it's our duty to empower them with the social skills they will need for the rest of their days, and by allowing them to build that rocket out of the old moving boxes in the garage, you will be doing just that.

Cognitive Advantages of Play

Let us not overlook the cognitive advantages of play.

Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a psychology professor at Temple University, says play is the engine that drives cognitive development in children.

"Play enables children to develop problem-solving abilities, creativity, and imagination, all of which can boost academic achievement and general cognitive functioning."

A University of Cambridge research discovered that youngsters who engage in pretend play had greater levels of executive functioning, which encompasses abilities such as decision-making, planning, and impulse control.

Who would have thought that there was so much importance in children's play for their mental health?

Physical Advantages of Playing

But what about the physical advantages of playing?

They're also quite significant.

Play is an excellent method for children to get up and move, which can benefit their physical health.

According to research conducted by the American Heart Association, children who participated in regular physical exercise were less likely to acquire obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

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Prioritizing Play in Child's Life

What does this all mean for parents and caretakers?

It suggests that a child's life should prioritize play. Children who are encouraged to play and engage in many types of play are more likely to develop strong emotional, social, cognitive, and physical abilities.

Indeed, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that pediatricians urge parents to give their children plenty of time and space to play.

But what exactly does play entail?

To define play from children, would be like describing the totality of the cosmos.

Children are naturally so creative and unique that play can take the shape of an infinite amount of topics, scenarios, and ideas.

Some of the great philosophers could learn a thing or two by studying a group of toddlers.

But a few of the main categories of play can be things like structured play such as organized sports and activities, card and board games and it can vary as far as unstructured play such as imaginative scenarios, where they create whole worlds with just their young minds and exploring the outdoors.

Digital Play

Not to mention the value of play in the digital era.

While screen time should be limited, there are numerous engaging and instructive applications and games available that may help youngsters develop.

From language learning apps to creating apps for building communities - digital resources offer value that can't be overlooked when it comes to inspiring young minds.

30 years ago, only physical pen and paper or very limited technology was available to children.

In 2023, there are applications with similar amounts of technology as Nasa had available when sending men to the moon.

By letting the children have a limited amount of exposure to digital learning applications, we can help prepare them for the digital future that is to come.

However digital play makes up only a fraction of the overall amount. 


To summarize, play is more than simply child's play; it is an essential component of a child's mental health and development.

It allows youngsters to gain emotional management, social skills, cognitive skills, and physical health.

Those make-believe scenarios in the backyard or the basement are building strong foundations to contribute to their mental health and the future of mankind

So, let us encourage our children to play and explore their surroundings because there is no such thing as too much fun!


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July 21st, 2024

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