My Parenting handbook

Parenting Hadnbook

Chapter 1

Chapter 9: The Power of Play

Play is a child’s language and the benefits of giving space for play (or joining in your child’s play) cannot be overstated. In this chapter we explore the benefits of play in terms of neurological, emotional, and psychological growth;  how to create an environment at home that conducive to play; and lastly, we explore the Institute of Child Psychology’s Therapeutic Play model to help children who are struggling with their mental health or emotion dysregulation.

We know you are likely exhausted as many parents are, and the thought of playing Barbies with your six-year-old might not be at the top of your parenting wish list—you might even dread it. We want to make space for the fact that you may experience some trepidation while reading, and not because the information isn’t valuable, but play is often difficult for parents to engage in for a variety of reasons. Parents often feel too busy, too tired, or it feels too awkward for them. We want you to keep an open mind and know that children have a natural proclivity to play on their own, and we’re not asking you to play all day long with them. What we are asking is that you make the space for play in your home, in lieu of screens or scheduled activities, and when you do find the time, even if it’s just an hour a week, or 15 minutes a day, play with your child to help them feel seen, heard, and valued. We’re here to explain how vitally important this is to your child’s development, but luckily, you don’t have to do nearly as much as you think to help facilitate this.

Play is fundamental to a child’s well-being—arguably to anyone’s, regardless of age. Studies across species indicate that: “For humans and other animals, play is a universal training course and language of trust. The belief that one is safe with another being or in any situation is formed over time during regular play. Trust is the basis of intimacy, cooperation, creativity, successful work, and more.”

Play is a child’s language and is often an unconscious expression of a child’s inner conflicts and a way to resolve fears, build confidence, and learn self-advocacy skills.

The basic building blocks of play are evident in the early days of a child’s life and is composed of gentle coos, giggles, and spit bubbles. It is in these moments, as the caregiver responds to the infant’s cues, that the foundation of trust is developed. The infant is reassured that their caregiver is intimately connected, attuned, and on a deeper evolutionary level, able to protect them. Our propensity for play tends to dwindle as our children get older. Yet if we stop and reflect on the fact that play is the foundation of trust and that as trust shifts, develops, and deepens over time, so should play. In Kim Payne’s work, he cites play deprivation as one of the key factors in the “undeclared war on childhood.” Play has become the forgotten instrument of love and connection and one of the keys that unlocks the door to childhood development. When parents engage in or observe child-driven play (play that is chosen by the child without the adults’ input), they are honoured with being able to see the world through their child’s eyes. These deeply relational experiences show the child that the parent is present and invested in their exploration of the world.

Scroll to Top

Download Free Chapter

Please fill in your details to get free chapter