As families stay home to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, finding healthy ways to play, engage, and connect is essential. Through its Power of Play alliance with Melissa & Doug, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers tips on incorporating hands-on play to foster family interactions and help reduce stress.
The COVID-19 pandemic is placing unprecedented challenges on families as they deal with work loss, dangerous work conditions, transitions to work from home, financial stresses, at-home schooling, feelings of social isolation, health concerns, and more. It can be overwhelming.
As families adjust to this situation, the American Academy of Pediatrics reminds parents that one of the best ways to manage stress — for both adults and children — is to play.
Play is an essential activity for children – for their brain development, social skills, and connections with loved ones. It also happens to be a great stress reliever, which is all the more important while families are facing new challenges during this pandemic,” said AAP President Sally Goza, MD, FAAP. “Play doesn’t have to be complicated. Take a few minutes during breaks in the day to get a little silly with your children. Reading books, cooking together, exploring nature areas, or finding creative ways to connect with loved ones far away, are all great ways to give the entire family an emotional boost.
Play has been a source of human resilience for ages. Play allows children and adults to move their bodies, think up new solutions to problems, and improve their mood. Families can use play as an opportunity to talk, read, and sing with children, all of which will build their vocabularies, reduce stress, create connection, and develop foundational skills for learning. Play can also let children express the strong feelings they may be having when they cannot see their peers and teachers, or take part in their favorite community activities.
Healthy Play Ideas for Different Ages
Babies & Toddlers
Simple back-and-forth interactions, such as games of peek-a-boo and verbal games of mimicking each other’s sounds, help build “attunement,” the process of absorbing and reflecting a child’s feelings. The joy of shared communication that parents and children experience during play can build strong bonds and help regulate feelings of stress. Some other ideas include:
- Read and Connect
Reading with children promotes meaningful interactions between you and your child. Even infants benefit from hearing you talk and sing while reading. It’s important to point out pictures, noticing your child’s gaze and commenting on what has captured their attention. Don’t be afraid to get silly and theatrical with your voice. Ask toddlers to count or name items on the page. Enlist grandparents or other relatives to read stories over video chat while you and your child cuddle.
- Narrate the Action
It may feel silly at times, but keeping up a running commentary of your everyday activities helps kids build vocabulary and communication skills. As you prepare meals, get kids dressed, and carry out the other tasks of life, talk out loud about what you and they are doing. Take a walk in your neighborhood, if possible, and talk about what you are seeing and feeling.
- Go Back and Forth
Aim for activities that involve back-and-forth interactions, such as blowing and catching bubbles, stacking cups or blocks, or simply rolling a ball to each other.
Try to give preschoolers plenty of opportunities for creativity and pretend play. At this age, children are eager for opportunities to try on different roles (like a doctor or nurse), master new ideas, and feel in control.
As magical thinkers, they process their emotions through play and pretending — which is great because children can’t always express what they are feeling with language at this age.
- Art in Nature
If you’re able to get outside to explore the backyard or the nearby woods while maintaining physical distancing, use it as an opportunity to create art in nature. Encourage kids to find stones, pebbles, sticks, and fallen petals and leaves, and arrange them in beautiful patterns. Try pressing leaves and flowers in the pages of heavy books for about a week, then arrange them in frames around the house for display. Take a photo or video for a show-and-tell with grandparents or loved ones who are far away.
- Raid the Closet
Go through your closets and pull out a random selection of clothing and accessories for a dress-up party. Create different characters with their own voices and back stories. You could even encourage the whole family to come to a meal “in character.”
- Adventure Walks
Go for walks in locations where you can maintain six feet of distance away from others. Turn it into an adventure by coming up with themes for each stroll. Hunt for the teddy bears and rainbows some families are placing in windows. Pretend to be detectives on the lookout for various “clues” (a pair of glasses; or a small dog). Or create a more formal scavenger hunt with predetermined objects to find before returning home.
For school-age children who are more aware of current events and may be feeling anxious about the changes in their lives, it could be helpful to incorporate play that empowers them to take control over certain aspects of their lives. Also try playing games that work by predictable rules, such as board games and card games — since the world might feel more unpredictable to them right now.
- Refresh Your Space
Changing up the scenery can elevate one’s mood. Encourage kids to make a plan to rearrange the furniture in the room. Have them map out their ideas on paper and help them execute. Or simply have them organize their closet, room, or other areas of the house, creating unique labels for certain collections or beautifying tabletops with decorative arrangements of artfully arranged small toys/play figures, or tchotchkes.
- Reverse Roles
Many parents find themselves taking on the role of teacher, but why not shake things up by letting your child teach you? Challenge your child to teach you something new — a game, a method for solving a math problem, the plot and takeaways from a book they read.
- Stir Up Imagination
Give all family members the same set of ingredients, and have each create their own unique recipe. Then enjoy eating the fruits of your labor. Or have a themed meal night with each family member responsible for one course. Enlist a grandparent or other relative to teach a favorite recipe in a virtual cooking class.
About the Power of Play
The American Academy of Pediatrics is joining forces with Melissa & Doug to foster early brain development and champion the health benefits of open-ended play. The Power of Play alliance will support parents and caregivers in helping children build important life skills through play, manage screen time, and connect with others on a deeper level. Learn more at MelissaAndDoug.com/PowerOfPlay