Kids look like small adults. They may even sound like mini grownups sometimes, especially when they get a little sassy or parrot back a parents’ own words to them. However, their brains haven’t matured to the same place that an adult brain has, so they process things and work through them very differently than an adult does.
One of the major ways kids process their feelings and things that are happening for them is through play.
They don’t have the words to clearly talk about what is happening or what they are feeling, but they can tell when something is hard, upsetting, or stressful. When a child is feeling upset, translating those feelings into play can help them organize and make sense of their feelings. They can create desired outcomes and play the “hero” who comes in and saves the distressed.
Being able to control the outcome and vent anger and frustration in a setting in which they call the shots helps them think outside the box and cope with daily challenges and problems. Some of this play may appear aggressive or angry, but as long as those traits are not generalized into interactions with others they are completely within the normal realm.
In today’s fast-paced world, there are often fewer and fewer opportunities for kids to have stretches of time devoted to simply playing.
Structured extra-curricular sports and clubs, TV time, and video and computer games are increasingly taking up the time that previously was open for creative, free play. Giving your kids a balance of time in which they have to amuse themselves with creativity and pretend mixed in with their structured time can help promote their problem solving skills, increase their self-confidence, and improve social skills.
Allow your kids to tap into the power of something they do naturally – just play!
Molly Halbrooks, LAMFT
mhalbrooks @ growcounseling.com