When your child plays freely, like when he hunts for bugs, pretends to be a knight, or romps at the playground, he learns to be resilient and able to manage stress. Free play is also important for him to reach important social, emotional, and intellectual milestones. This is according to an American Academy of Pediatrics report.
Unfortunately, we live in an era where a hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, and increased attention to academics at the expense of recess or free child-oriented play decrease the child’s opportunity to reap the benefits of free play.
You should give your kid more time to play freely, and not pressure him too much with enrichment activities and lots of classes. Play protects your child’s emotional development. A hurried lifestyle without play can be a source of stress, anxiety and may even contribute to his depression.
Free play teaches your kid skills that are essential to his everyday life. For example, games like Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light teach your kid to restrain impulses and exert self-control. New research suggests that your kid can benefit from play that gives a mental workout to his faculties of “executive control”. Executive control is the power to think twice. Research suggests that your kid’s ability to control his impulses and make conscious, deliberate choices can predict his future success in school at least as well as IQ tests.
In letting your kid play, the AAP report suggests the following:
• Encourage your kid to play with toys that requires imagination, like blocks and dolls. They are much better than passive toys that require limited imagination.
• Spend time talking and listening to your kid. This will help you become a role model to him and prepare him for success. This is better than loading him with extracurricular activities.
• Play with your kid. This will give you the opportunity to glimpse into his world. You will learn to communicate more effectively with him and gives you another setting to offer him gentle, nurturing guidance. If your kid is less verbal, he will be able to express his views, experiences, and even frustrations through play, allowing you an opportunity to gain a fuller understanding of his perspective. By playing with your kid, you are being supportive, nurturing, and productive.
• Avoid conveying to your kid that he needs to excel in many areas to be a success or be prepared to compete in the real world.
• Your kid should have a balance of appropriately challenging academic schedule and extracurricular activities. This should be based on your child’s unique needs, and not on competitive community standards.
• When choosing childcare and early education program, choose one that meet your child’s social and emotional needs as well as academic preparedness.
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