The United Nations now recognises the importance of play for child development. It is deemed a Human Right of every child.
Through play with peers and other adults, children are given the opportunity to develop their emotional, cognitive, language and self-regulation skills. These skills provide the building blocks for pro-social higher order processes in the brain.
Play gives children the opportunity to interact in a way that is protected from real-life consequences and hone skills needed to thrive in our complex world. A lack of social competence has been found to contribute to juvenile delinquency, underemployment, criminal behaviour and mental health difficulties.
Below are some tips to consider:
• By focusing on developing a child’s social and emotional capacity rather than teaching them instrumental skills, we are supporting them to deepen their desire and motivation for close relationships, be focused on the pleasure derived from social encounters and engage in play for the joy of play and how it feels rather than the outcome of the activity.
• Always consider the child – their temperament, functional capacities, developmental profile and culture factors.
• Always consider the context – using a combination of structured and unstructured settings and the pros and cons of both.
Children with special needs often have fewer friends and social opportunities because of their difficulties initiating and receiving social exchanges. They are often more vulnerable to being teased or bullied. Children with special needs tend to spend less time in social relationships and have many of their social interactions confined to their primary caregivers or other adults. As therapists, parents and individuals supporting children, we need to find ways to increase the opportunity for them to build their social competence through natural play opportunities.
With the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions easing, NOW is an opportune time to find a community activity that your child could join. By taking your child down to the park, local beach, or outdoor recreational facility will provide an opportunity to engage in play and find playmates.
Author: Kim Elter – Occupational Therapist