Preschooler play: why it’s important for emotional development
Play is one of the main ways that children learn and develop. It’s important for all areas of development, including emotional development.
Starting school means many new and intense experiences and emotions for children. When children can understand and manage these emotions, it helps them get along with others and learn. Play is an important way for school-age children to practise their emotional skills – and sometimes just to let their emotions out.
Your child might have many opportunities to play with other children at school, but play with you still has an important and special role.
Playing with your child – for example, throwing a ball to each other or playing a board game together – gives your child the chance to experience and express emotions like happiness and disappointment in a supportive environment. It strengthens your relationship too, and it’s all good practice for when your child is playing with others.
School-age children watch how you manage your emotions, and you can set a good example when you manage your feelings in positive ways. For example, you send a powerful message when you respond to your upset child with calmness and understanding.
What to expect from school-age kids and emotions
Once at school, your child will probably:
- start to learn about being independent
- start understanding other people’s points of view by 8-9 years
- have some understanding of right and wrong, but might also do things like tell lies or steal.
Some children go through stages of being loud and confident and then quiet and shy.
Your child will probably start forming closer friendships from about eight years. But this is just the general pattern, and your child will make their own choices.
At this age, children are often very keen on rules. Sometimes disagreements about rules can cause arguments between school-age children. Your child will still need help from adults like you or their teachers to keep play going smoothly.
School-age children often go through many new emotions, which might be overwhelming for your child. Listening to your child when they want to talk and giving them plenty of affection and support will help them to feel secure, valued and loved.
‘How was school?’ is a big question. To answer, your child has to sum up a whole day of activities and emotions. That’s hard for children – and even grown-ups – to do. There are many things you can do to get your child talking about school.
School-age kids and emotions: play ideas
Play is one of the best ways for children to understand and manage their emotions. Here are some ideas for your school-age child:
- Paint, draw and write. These are great ways to manage and express big emotions like disappointment or sadness.
- Have fun with music. For example, your child could jump around and ‘act out’ music, create music with odds and ends around the house, or learn to play an instrument.
- Try messy play – for example, squish sand or stomp in mud.
- Encourage pretend play with puppets and toys or dress-ups. This lets your child try out different situations and the emotions that go with them, like being a brave firefighter or a lost explorer.
- Go to a park or open space for outdoor play like running, tumbling or hitting a ball around. Kicking a ball really hard is great for releasing tension.
- Read stories that feature characters who are going through emotions that your child is also feeling. This can really help your child understand new emotions.
The Disney movie Inside Out can help children understand and talk about feelings. You could watch it as a family and then talk about it afterwards.