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Make time for playtime

The importance of play to childhood development and mental health

Play is an essential part of a child's growth and development, and can have a major impact on their mental health and overall wellness. Simply put, play is a child's business. It is one of their most important priorities, and the lessons learned through play can benefit a child their whole life long. As parents, there are concrete steps we can take to foster an environment that is supportive of play in all its forms.

Less tech, more talk

In today's always-on world, it's easy for parents to become tethered to their tech. Smartphones, TVs, tablets and computers are an enticing way to spend time. It's important to understand, however, that no screen can ever replace you. By taking time every day to play with your child, you're not only helping them grow and develop, you're strengthening your bond and leaving them with priceless childhood memories.

The good news about screen time? You can even make screen time playful! When watching age-appropriate programming with your child, talk to them about the program. Ask them to describe the world the show is set in, who their favorite character is and why, or what they think will happen next.

The AAP recommends limiting screen time to no more than one hour per day of high-quality programming for children ages 2-5. From 18-24 months, parents who want to introduce their children to screen media should plan to watch age-appropriate programming together as a tool to talk, teach and learn about the world around them. For children younger than 18 months, the AAP recommends avoiding screen time altogether, except for video chatting.

Press pause

There are so many things in life that compete for a child's time and attention. Screens, school and extracurricular activities all factor into today's hectic lifestyle. Create an opportunity each day to press pause and make time for playtime. Unstructured play gives children the opportunity to explore, imagine, collaborate, build and share in a forum that's not tied to grades or performance.

Good for brains and bodies

Playtime is essential to childhood because it benefits children's cognitive, social-emotional, language and physical development. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 80% of a child's brain development occurs in the first three years of life through verbal and nonverbal interaction, so when it comes to playtime, keep it screen-free. Instead, turn to activities that encourage children to use their hands, interact with others, foster creativity and encourage imagination. Play is how children learn about and explore the world around them, so let them drive playtime. Whether it's building a skyscraper from wooden blocks, imagining a fantasy world where they're the king or queen, or drawing with chalk outside, allow your child to lead.

Play and mental health

Play has a surprising impact on a child's emotional development, too. Through play, children can imagine their own world, build confidence, conquer fears and solve problems. By playing with your child, you have a unique opportunity to peer into their world and learn about what might be causing them to be scared, angry or worried, and through play, you can help them address and manage those feelings.

A child's physical health and emotional well-being are directly tied to how they experience the world. By using play to introduce your child to the world around them, you have the opportunity to welcome new experiences with laughter and love and create the foundation for a healthy, happy childhood.