The Power of Play as a Stress Reliever For Children | Woombie
Let’s face it: These last few years have been tough on children in the U.S. They’ve faced a terrifying global pandemic, profound disruptions in their daily lives, separation from their friends and extended family, and the challenges of online learning.
It’s been a lot, and it’s not surprising that it has taken a toll on kids’ mental health. There is even evidence to suggest that our children today are facing a mental health crisis. There are many ways we can work to address that crisis, such as making the mental health care system more accessible to children. This is a large and long-term issue that needs to be addressed, but luckily, kids don’t have to wait to start improving their mental health.
In fact, kids all over the country can find nearly-immediate relief from their stress and worry in a pretty unexpected way: during playtime.
Playing to Purge Stress
Physical activity is an ideal outlet for processing stress, helping children develop behaviorally and emotionally. In addition to these long-term benefits, playing can also help kids deal with short-term stress.
Movement can increase endorphins and dopamine while also reducing stress hormones, such as cortisol. As people exercise, their cortisol levels decline and the body’s physiological responses to stress begin to abate. Blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration decrease after the initial burst of adrenaline that comes from intense physical play.
When the physical body relaxes, it becomes easier to mentally relax too. The relaxation that often follows exuberant play can strongly benefit children who are tinder stress. For example, incorporating robust physical activity that is followed by decompression techniques can help children manage academic anxiety. This process can help enhance their concentration in the classroom while building resilience and self-confidence overall.
Playing to Develop Confidence
Research into the benefits of recreational therapy, of which regular outdoor play is one example, has shown that those who routinely engage in a chosen activity, such as a preferred sports game, have higher self-esteem than those who do not.
When you consider what is involved in outdoor play, it’s not difficult to understand how play reduces children’s stress by increasing their sense of self-efficacy. Through play, children can learn how to overcome obstacles, achieve goals, and develop new skills. This can help them believe in themselves and their abilities, allowing them to perform better in all areas of life.
Playing to Build Social Connections
There are many ways that children learn to develop healthy relationships with others, but the development of strong social skills is, arguably, most evident (and important) on the playground. This is where children learn to share and collaborate. It is where they learn to be accountable to others and to trust others. It is where they begin to develop their first and most important relationships outside of their immediate family.
This is crucial when it comes to the issue of play as a form of stress relief because cultivating strong and supportive connections with peers is essential to good mental health for children. Close emotional ties provide children with comfort and perspective, as well as a listening and loving ear. Children with a strong support network are better able to express themselves, vent their frustrations and fears, and consequently, relieve their stress.
Play isn’t just fun; it’s also beneficial for children’s mental and physical health. Regular play is a powerful tool for helping children to relieve their stress. Play helps to physically relieve stress, allows children to build their self-esteem, and build relationships with their peers — all of which are critical to managing stress in both the short- and long-term.