A Magic Bullet?
I have spent what seems like a lifetime in search of some way to buffer my children against stress. The world seems to bombard our children with demands and pressures, “you have to’s” and “you better’s.” You know what I mean, the “You have to do perfect on the state assessment tests (PSSA’s for us) or you won’t graduate,” “You must practice all year or you won’t make the team,” “You have to enroll your child in the best preschool or they’ll miss out on the right college,” “You must learn a language, work for extra cash, practice every day for the play, make your curve ball perfect, volunteer each week, study for your bio test, talk to your friends, read 25 books…” You get the idea. I’m sure you have watched your children struggle through this litany of stressors and more. How can we help our children manage this stress? How can we buffer them against this kind of stress? I have finally found one answer to that question. It may not be the only answer, but it is a start…a very important start…and it has added benefits too. What is this magic bullet? Play! That’s right, unsupervised, unstructured, frivolous play. Allowing children to enjoy play, and engaging them in play, will buffer them against stress. Play provides the opportunity for children to work through, and relieve, their stress. Through play, children may act out possible solutions to their stress or simply repeat certain scenarios until they find themselves comfortable with them. In addition, play provides the opportunity for children to discover strengths and competencies, which helps reduce stress. Children can conquer their fears while acting out adult roles through play. They learn to cooperate and work as a group during play. All of this helps build competencies and reduce stress.
When parents allow their children to guide and lead them in a play activity, they learn a lot about their children. They will learn to see the world through their children’s eyes and discover how their children think about the world. This knowledge allows a parent to become familiar with their children and, as a result, more easily address their children’s worries and fears. Parents also learn how to better communicate with their children through the knowledge gained during play. As an added bonus, receiving a parent’s full attention and observing that a parent will follow “my guidance,” provides children with a sense of value…which is another great buffer against stress.
All of this (and I didn’t even mention how play allows a child to grow in creativity, language, negotiation, and self-control) will help your children respond to stress in a positive way. Oh yeah, and it is fun! Play may not be the only way to help buffer a child against stress, but it is one way I don’t want to miss out on. How about you? Aye, wait a minute…why are you still sitting there? Go on; get out there with your children and play!