The Impact of Playtime On Childhood Mental Health

Guest blogger Jenni Hart is a freelance writer, who used to work in the healthcare sector – when her youngest son was diagnosed with OCD she decided to dedicate more of her time to understanding how mental health affects children and now tries to write and research on that subject, to raise awareness and hopefully help other parents in the same situation.

More and more children are being diagnosed with anxiety disorders every year. According to the Center For Disease Prevention and Control, at least one in fifty American children suffer from some form of mental health issue – and that number is growing. Many modern parents are feverishly worried about the ‘dangers’ inherent in play, and keep ‘playtime’ under strict parental control. However, there is increasing evidence that parents should make efforts to provide play for their children – it could be crucial to their mental health and development.

Mental Development and Play

As researchers at Harvard point out, the mental health of a child (and their subsequent mental health as an adult) is highly dependent upon childhood experiences. Few people would deny that play is absolutely crucial to a child’s development – so much so that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “Children have the right to relax and play”, the implication being that not to do so would thoroughly disadvantage the child. The American Psychological Association further draws a link between play and the development of mental health problems. In this case, they point out that mental health issues can cause children to “withdraw socially and become depressed and…[become] reluctant to play with others”. The reverse is also true.

Play Therapy and OCD

However, it is not all bad news. Play can not only be an effective preventative in the case of many childhood mental health problems – it can also be part of a cure. Great things have been done by play-therapists working with children suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Psychguides describes the disorder as “a brain disorder caused by incorrect information processing”. This causes the sufferer’s brain to become ‘stuck’ on a loop of horrible, intrusive thoughts often centering around dreadful things happening to the sufferer or their loved ones. Unable to dismiss these thoughts in the manner of someone without OCD, the sufferer develops coping strategies involving carrying out rituals – the ‘compulsions’ which are what the outside world sees of the disorder – in order to prevent the thoughts from becoming reality. Amie Myrick and Eric Green have convincingly argued and shown that play therapy can be used effectively alongside conventional treatments to improve the lives of OCD suffering children. In particular, they say, “play therapy techniques may be beneficial for children attempting to externalize the internal dialogue of repetitive thoughts associated with OCD” – something of crucial importance when getting to grips with the disorder.

Healthy Bodies, Healthy Relationships, Healthy Minds

Letting children play will, therefore, not only help them to develop healthy bodies and relationships, but also healthy minds. The freedom, imagination and sheer joy of play are vital to building a healthy psyche. Playtime is a time free from worry and pressure, where the mind can expand and stretch its wings to their full extent.



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