The emotional benefits of play for children are abundant, contributing to the development of a happy, healthy, well-rounded individual during childhood and into adulthood. The importance of play for children should not be underestimated, especially the impact it has on the emotional and mental health of children starting from an early age. Play builds lifelong emotional health by developing a child’s self-esteem, social skills, emotional regulation, decision-making abilities, self-expression, empathy, identity, humor, self-soothing mechanisms, and so much more. This infographic explores why play matters for the emotional well-being of every child while also addressing the benefits of play as a whole. This collection compiled by the AAA State of Play research team includes quotes and scientifically backed research from doctors, scientists, teachers, child-care professionals, and more.
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- “When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.” ― Fred Rogers
- “Play interventions, either real-life, digital, or combined, have clear potential to enhance physical, social, emotional and cognitive development,” according to a 2018 Dutch study.
- An article by the American Journal of Play states that lack of play affects emotional development, causing spikes in anxiety, depression, inattention, and poor self-control.
- “Play can be a healthy way for kids to process the news and can give parents insight into their child’s emotional state.” — Kate Cray
- “Free play gives children an outlet to express their emotions and feelings and helps them develop a sense of who they are.” — KaBOOM!
- “Encouraging your child to pursue tasks that produce flow is a great way to contribute to his lifelong happiness.” — Sam Wang, Ph.D., and Sandra Aamodt, Ph.D.
- “Children learn to handle their emotions, including anger and fear, during play.” — Esther Entin
- Research shows that a decline in play and recess correlates with a decline in empathy. Pretend play and playing among peers is key for cultivating compassion, acceptance, and a richer world view.
- “Expressing feelings through play will allow a child to work through his or her problems, rather than internalizing them. In doing this, the child will be forming a basis for healthy emotional, mental, social, and physical well-being by learning how to manage his or her emotions in a socially acceptable way.” — The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability
- Experts state that physical activity helps both children and adults build confidence, manage stress and anxiety, and have a more positive outlook on life.
- Play is considered so vital for optimal development that is it recognized as a human right for every child by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.
- “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength.” — Kenneth R. Ginsburg
- “As a society, we have come to the conclusion that children must spend increasing amounts of time in the very setting where they least want to be. The cost of that belief, as measured by the happiness and mental health of our children, is enormous.” — Peter Gray, Ph.D.
- Physical movement releases “feel-good” chemicals such as endorphins, which improve mood, energy, and sleep.
- “Play relieves feelings of stress and boredom, connects us to people in a positive way, stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates our emotions, and boosts our ego.” — Association for Play Therapy
- Free play affects the neurons in the prefrontal cortex, aiding the brain’s ability to make plans, solve problems, and regulate emotions.
- Chronic stress is toxic for the growing brain. Outdoor play is scientifically proven to relieve stress and encourages a healthy release of bottled-up emotions.
- “The longer children can enjoy play without the kind of monitoring that leads to self-criticism and self-doubt, the better.” — Dr. Craigan Usher
- A study by the University of Cambridge found that children who engaged in physical play with their fathers from an early age were better at regulating emotions and behaviors later in life.
- Freedom and risk during playtime provides opportunities to build confidence, develop decision-making skills, and inspire trust in oneself and others.
- “We should be simply providing fields of free action for them to become, through playing, the resilient, adaptive, creative, emotionally intelligent, and socially confident young people that we all, in truth, want them to be.” — Adrian Voce, OBE
- “Abstract thinking is play. When a child fantasizes, he is playing. By taking images, ideas, and concepts from inside their own minds and re-organizing, sorting, and re-connecting in new ways, children create. They create play worlds, hopes, desires, and wishes.” — Bruce D. Perry
- “Play supplies the brain with what it needs for learning later in life, maximizing the child’s chance of being a happy and healthy member of society.” — Kris Allen
- A 2015 study showed that a long walk in green environments reduced neural activity in parts of the brain associated with mental illness risk.
- “It energizes and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.” — Stuart Brown, M.D.
- “Nature is often overlooked as a healing balm for the emotional hardships in a child’s life.” — Richard Louv
- “Give childhood back to our children: If we want our offspring to have happy, productive and moral lives, we must allow more time for play, not less.” — Peter Grey
- “Play is how we are made, how we develop and adjust to change. It allows us to express our joy and connect most deeply with the best in ourselves and others.” — Stuart Brown, M.D.
Find more about the author: Kim Hart