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Friday, August 18, 2017

Laughter Heals! 7 Ways That Play Builds Emotional Health

Photo by DAVID Swift (Flickr)

Therapist Jenny Florence defines emotional health as a person's ability to understand and respond to emotional experiences. Our kids do experience all kinds of emotions every day, from joy, excitement, and anticipation to anger, disappointment, and sadness. They may be unprepared to handle or process their feelings properly, though. I've found that laughter and play actually help my girls and all kids heal and build their emotional health in seven ways.

Laughter Releases Endorphins

I love watching my girls tell jokes, share funny stories, and laugh with their friends as they play. In fact, laughter actually prompts the brain to release endorphins, feel-good chemicals. Through this simple act, kids can diffuse tension, worry, and stress and feel more positive, cheerful, and upbeat.

Social Play Builds Communication Skills

Some kids, like my younger daughter, struggle with communicating. In her case, she can't always verbalize her emotions, but your kids may have difficulty waiting their turn to talk, speaking up when they have an opinion, or talking to other kids. Play gives kids opportunities to build the healthy communication skills they need now and in the future.

Group Play Prompts Positive Conflict Resolution

My girls usually play nicely together, but yesterday, they fought all day! I finally walked with them to our neighborhood park. After playing for a few minutes, they apologized to each other and began laughing together. This experience is one example of how play can prompt kids to resolve conflicts. They learn to share, express disagreements calmly, and work through differences in a positive way as they play with others.

Pretend Play Encourages Kids to Work Through Emotions

My girls feared the dentist until the day we set up a pretend dental office for their dolls. Pretending to examine their dolls' teeth helped them work through their fear. Whether kids experience fear or a strong emotion like grief, shame, rage, or depression, pretend play encourages them to work through their emotions. In a safe and open environment, they learn to admit, address, and express all of their emotions in a healthy way.

Play Provides a Safe Environment

It's a sad fact that life can be hard for kids sometimes. They may experience anxiety, trauma, or other emotional challenges at home, with friends, or at school. Play can provide a safe environment where children can forget their troubles, be themselves, and have fun without worrying about the challenges in their daily life.

Play Teaches Problem-Solving

Emotions are complicated. My girls sometimes feel sad, happy, or disappointed but don't realize why they feel that way or how to stop. They need to develop essential problem-solving skills, and play can help. As they build block towers, practice soccer, or learn to knit, they figure out how to recognize and solve problems with patience and perseverance, and that skill sets them up for success socially, academically, and emotionally.

Laughter Improves Group Bonding

This year, my older daughter will be in a new building for school. She feels nervous, but I encourage her to look for opportunities to laugh with the kids around her. Laughter is contagious and relaxing, and it also bonds kids together. She'll feel more comfortable, make new friends, and solidify friendships in her new environment as she laughs.

Emotional health is important, and laughter and play build our kids' emotional health in seven ways. How will you encourage and support your child's emotional health today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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