Most millennials today have fond memories of childhoods spent playing outdoors or using their imaginations to create fun, new games to enjoy – the absence of limited screen time meant that those who grew up in the 80s and 90s played to their hearts’ content. 

They also did not have the challenges that children today face. South Africans navigating life in present day face several scary realities that children are not exempt from, creating a stressful and overwhelming environment for them to contend with. 

With events like load shedding, crime, violence, and corruption taking place, the effects of which these younger children are not spared from, the mental health of both children and parents is taking strain,” says registered counsellor, Luthando Magadla. “Play can be a powerful tool for coping with the stress and trauma caused by such events and provides an outlet for children to express their feelings and emotions, helps them feel more in control, and promotes resilience. Given that a child’s brain develops more rapidly in the first five years more than any other point in life, it would be best to engage them in play that will allow them to learn a multitude of useful skills for them to thrive in their future.”

The LEGO® Play Well Study 2022[i] reiterates this, showing that play provides clear benefits for the entire family – 95% of parents who responded to the Study felt that play created stronger family bonds, improved family wellbeing, and made families feel happier. Additionally, one in three parents admitted that they don’t play with their children as much as they should, while 84% of children said they wished their parents would spend more time playing with them. 

“Not only does play have the power to foster strong emotional connections between parents and children that create a space of safety for a child, but through the act of playing, children learn important skills like resilience, problem-solving, and how to express their thoughts and emotions,” says Miroslav Riha, LEGO® South Africa country manager. “Parents who take the time to nurture these connections are more likely to be the first people their children go to with a problem or confusing emotions.”

How parents can play more with children

“Parents can model the tenets of play at home by engaging in playful activities with their children, encouraging creativity, imagination, and spontaneity. They can provide a wide range of activities from board games, puzzles, imaginative play, LEGO® DUPLO® play and physical activities like dancing or playing catch. Parents can also incorporate play into daily activities like cooking or cleaning, making them fun and engaging experiences.

Play is just as beneficial for stressed out adults, says Magadla. “Parents can also use play as a way of reconnecting with their inner child, releasing tension, and promoting happiness. Engaging in play activities can help parents feel more energised, refreshed, and better equipped to manage daily stressors.”

Magadla advises busy parents who find it difficult to spare extra time in the day for play to try incorporating play into daily activities, like cooking or cleaning, making these fun and engaging experiences by getting the kids involved, allowing them to get messy and even help with tidying up in the process. 

While toddlers may not be able to describe their emotions with words as effectively as older children, they can still reap the benefits of ‘play therapy’ with the appropriate toys and activities being offered to them. LEGO® DUPLO® for example, says Riha, encourages children aged between one-and-a-half to five-years-old build on their verbal, physical and cognitive abilities.

“LEGO DUPLO bricks are a fun way that allows parents to play and engage with their littlest ones. The larger bricks are safe for toddlers and help develop their fine motor skills. The bright colours are inviting and can be used to teach children the first words, and the whimsical characters that feature throughout LEGO DUPLO sets serve as a fun ‘escape’ from reality for children,” says Riha.

“When children play – whether that involves building with construction toys, immersing themselves in imaginary play, or even engaging in digital gaming – they are learning, developing and, importantly, finding comfort and safety amid the chaos that often exists around them.”

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