Using Play to Combat Your Child’s Stress and Loneliness

(StatePoint) With the pandemic continuing to disrupt routines, you may have growing anxieties about how the extended crisis will affect your child’s social and emotional health long-term. A new survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of the The Genius of Play -- a national movement to educate parents and caregivers about play’s vital role in child development -- examined the concerns of parents with children ages 2–18. Here are some of the findings, along with tips to counteract the negative effects of quarantine: Social Skills Seven in 10 parents believe spending a year in quarantine will have a lasting effect on their child’s growth and development. Among those parents, the top concern is that it’ll be more difficult for their child to connect with people in-person in the future (52%). Tied for second and third were concerns that it’ll be more difficult for their child to play (44%) or make friends in the future (also 44%) after being separated from their peers. “There are numerous playtime activities that boost communication and social skills, which can be adapted to this new reality,” says Anna Yudina, senior director of marketing initiatives at The Toy Association. During a period when travel is limited, Yudina suggests playing “International Menu” to help kids learn about the world. To play, pick a location and discuss its local dishes. Then, give kids Play-Doh to create them. Have kids play restaurant with their new DIY meals. Using action figures and toys, try other roleplay games that encourage interaction and communication skills that kids may not have practiced for awhile. Classic board games with questions and answers – like Guess Who? – can also help kids build and retain their social skills. Loneliness Four in 10 parents worry about their child’s mental health as a result of the pandemic. What’s more, 72% of respondents say they believe that during 2020 their child was lonelier than ever before. That’s a feeling extending to parents themselves -- 58% said they, too, were lonelier than ever. “Whether building a furniture fort, solving a puzzle or using a science kit, collaborative play gives us an opportunity to connect and combat loneliness while keeping children happy and entertained,” says Yudina. “Playing together also offers parents insights into their child’s world and what may be causing their stress and anxiety.” An arts and crafts session presents an opportunity to connect with friends and family who your child may be missing. Break out the paper, stickers, markers, and safety scissors to create cards to send to loved ones. Be sure to organize virtual playdates, too. The latest apps are making it easier for kids to read, draw, act out plays, and watch movies virtually with friends. The Bright Side Despite its difficulties, parents indicated that this period has had silver linings. When asked what positives have resulted from spending more time at home over the past year, the top response was being able to spend more time playing with their child (46%). To get inspired to fill in all those additional hours with play, visit thegeniusofplay.org, a great online resource for parents offering tons of play ideas. “The long-lasting effects of the pandemic are yet to be determined,” says Yudina. “In the meantime, all this extended time at home is an excellent opportunity for families to connect and play, keeping both kids and adults social and active.”