Fostering resilience through parent-child play

Counselling trainee Beatrice Oscini explains how playing with parents in the early childhood years is vital for developing resilience and that it helps future adults deal with stress, adversity and anxiety
Photo: Shutterstock.com

Parents are children’s first teachers and much of their guidance and teaching occurs through play. However, in today’s world, it can be challenging for parents to spend quality time with their kids amid their busy work and domestic routines. Yet, children need individual time with parents to relax, laugh and play, ultimately building lasting bonds.

When parents or siblings play board games, football or perhaps read a story together, children gain self-importance, which positively affects their self-confidence and self-esteem. From these interactions, they gain a sense of belonging and start understanding and envisioning their world.

Parents can effectively create a stimulating and secure environment for their children with limited financial resources and space.

The relationship between a parent and child is notably influenced by their daily interactions and activities. A strong bond with a parent or primary caregiver provides children with a safe and secure base from which to navigate the world, engage in play and acquire knowledge. When parents intervene in their children’s play by responding to indications of boredom or overwhelming stimulation, they support the kids’ ability to manage their own emotions and calm themselves.

The early childhood years are critical in establishing resilience. Parental warmth and attachment have been linked to children’s social and emotional well-being, predicting stability in response to stressful events later in life, and the ability to be flexible. 

Children need to be prepared to cope with setbacks and changes in life. This will enable them to adjust and overcome various challenges that may come their way, while also encouraging the growth of their unique talents, passions and support systems.

“Through play, children can make sense of their experiences and express themselves in a safe environment”

Resilience is the inner learning and strength that we find to overcome adversity. This is determined by our experiences, relationships, environment and the intrinsic physiological factors unique to everyone.

Through play, children can make sense of their experiences and express themselves in a safe environment. Play is, therefore, vital for developing resilience and helping children deal with stress, adversity and anxiety.  

When parents and children engage in play that involves cooperation, by taking turns or observing behaviour, parents are supporting ‘scaffolding’ learning and behaviour.  Play also provides a safe space for parents to model positive behaviours, relationships and many other aspects of life.

If we take a moment to listen to children playing, we can hear joy and fun, and ourselves as parents, where the child repeats what they would have experienced in the interactions with their parents. We can see that play comes naturally to children. It is an intrinsic part of who we are as humans. We can all be playful, even as adults. If we do not allow young children the space and time to play, they may not fully develop and their adult life would be affected. 

For example, by dancing in a pattern, stepping back, clapping and repeating, children begin to understand the foundations of mathematics, for reading and spelling, such as one-to-one correspondence and syllabication.

Pretend or symbolic play provides children with the opportunity to practise conversations and relationships and understand other’s experiences better while also building resilience and coping skills. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Pretend or symbolic play – such as setting up a tea party for imaginary friends or eating imaginative food − not only helps them understand their culture, but also provides them with opportunities to practise conversations and relationships and understand others’ experiences better, while Gualso building resilience and coping skills.

Play helps children learn the rules and culture of their family and environment and become aware of future expectations. Families who play together show better support and communication skills. Parents can enrich their children’s academic learning by offering them stimulating resources and experiences, such as games, puzzles, books, word association activities and bedtime stories.

The goal is to encourage exploration and learning in a fun and engaging way. Piaget and Vygotsky, two major contributors in psychology, even asserted that playing with children helps children manipulate toys by modelling other children and adults.

Parental involvement in a child’s world of play is, therefore, beneficial not only to the child, but also to the future adult. It provides an opportunity for the parent and the child to confront and resolve individual differences and provides the child with opportunities to practise behaviour in a safe environment to later use outside the family.

Finally, it enables the parent to view the world through the child’s eyes, thus addressing understanding and communication in the best interest of our future generations.

Beatrice Oscini is a counselling trainee and member of the MACP – the Malta Association for the Counselling Profession.

If you’re interested in learning more about the counselling profession, or would like additional information on mental health and self-care, visit www.macpmalta.org, www.facebook.com/CounsellingMaltaMACP or e-mail info@macpmalta.org.

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