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Thursday, December 3, 2020

Play Helps Children Become Smart and Happy Adults: Here's How

Photo by StartUpStockPhotos (Pixabay)

Play Helps Children Become Smart and Happy Adults: Here's How

Predicting potential professions for their children is a favorite pastime of many parents. Maybe you foresee your daughter becoming a top brain surgeon, or your son's got one heck of an arm and is going to be the starting pitcher for the Cubs someday. Whatever the case, every parent has at least some hopes and dreams for their child's future.

When it comes to my girls, anytime someone has asked me what I want for them in life, my answer has always been same: "I just want them to be smart and happy."

To me, what they end up doing is far less important than how they feel about what they end up doing. As long as they find a career path that makes them feel content and fulfilled, it doesn't matter to me what they choose.

This is why I place such a high value on my daughters' playtime. Unstructured playtime has real-world repercussions that can impact their lives for years and years to come. It's through play that children discover and develop the necessary skills to become happy and smart adults.

Play Is Crucial to a Child's Social Skills

Think back to your first childhood best friend. Did you become close because you had similar political views or collaborated on some project together? Of course not. You became best friends because you played together and had fun doing it.

Unfortunately, like many adults out there, there's a good chance you haven't talked to your childhood best friend in years, maybe even decades. People move, build lives, and grow apart. It happens to all of us. Even if that's the case, though, that doesn't diminish the importance that first friendship had in your life. That time you spent playing together was the introductory lesson to becoming a social human being.

By its very nature, play forces us to communicate and interact as effectively as we can. Whether they're playing board games, sports, or an adventure born purely from the imagination, kids learn how to pick up on social cues by playing together. They come to understand nonverbal communication like how a frown when their friend is losing means they aren't having fun anymore or how a laugh at a joke they told has endeared them to one another.

It's from these back-and-forth interactions during play that children begin to build their first relationships outside of their own family. They figure out how to build relationships and, over time, how to maintain friendships when they fall on difficult times.

Play Builds Confidence

Confidence in yourself is vital to becoming a happy adult. Without it, a person is far more likely to be riddled with anxiety and self-doubt throughout their life. This can then keep them from chasing dreams or pursuing goals because they don't believe them to be attainable.

Encouraging your children to participate in play on a regular basis is a great first step in building their confidence up. Take my oldest, for example. Recently, she has become quite adept at her favorite game, hide and seek. Does having an uncanny ability to hide herself from others effectively have a lot of practical applications? Not really, unless she's going to become a spy later in life. But the fact remains that she's great at hiding, and what's more, she knows she is. This is the point. Anytime she is able to successfully evade us, her confidence grows and she feels ready for more challenges.

Play Stimulates Creativity

One of the best attributes that play can offer is the ability to enhance a child's level of creativity. When children play, their imaginations are able to take them anywhere they want, like the bottom of the ocean or to far-off magical worlds, unconstrained by the laws of physics or other such trivial matters. This ability to take nothing and turn it into something is a skill that has countless real-world applications. A natural talent for being able to think outside the box or see a situation in a different light than everyone else is a highly sought-after trait. By encouraging children to embrace their creativity from a young age, you're actually helping them to expand their minds and accept even more possibilities throughout life. Just think of people like Elon Musk or the late Steve Jobs. Yes, their prowess in business was a large factor in their success, but I would argue that it was their creativity that deserves most of the credit.

Play Encourages Us to Take Risks and Accept the Consequences

I can recall a time in my adolescence when my friends and I built a ramp to launch our bikes off of. I can still remember the exhilaration I felt as my bike sped toward it for the very first time, as well as the pain that followed when I botched the landing.

Was it an irresponsible and risky thing for us all to do? Yes. But it did teach me a very valuable lesson: I wasn't some weak, fragile thing. Sure, I skinned my knee, and it stung quite a bit, but I wasn't going to break or fall to pieces anytime something didn't work out the way I expected. I learned that all-important lesson: If you fail, dust yourself off and try again.

Kids all over the world learn this lesson every day. Whether they're learning how to ride a bike or stumble in a foot race with their friends, instances like these show us that it's OK to fall down as long as you pick yourself back up. It encourages us to not lose hope when something goes wrong and to instead keep at it until we've mastered it. In short, play teaches us how to become smart and happy without giving up along the way.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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