Always encourage play Always encourage play

This activity promotes mental, physical, and even relational processes. Learn why it is important from year zero to adulthood.

Sara Posada Gómez
Doctor of Psychology, specialist in Clinical and Child Neuropsychology

Since 1959, with the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, play was recognized as one of the ten fundamental principles for the enjoyment of any child’s life.  A spontaneous and innate activity, essential for the cognitive and emotional development of children from their first day of life.

Thanks to this, processes such as attention, concentration, motor skills, memory, and learning, to name a few, are developed and strengthened from an early age. “When a child plays, a neurochemical process is activated where substances called neurotransmitters intervene, which not only allow the feeling of gratification while playing, but also ensure, in a sense, that this activity is repeated because of the level of wellbeing it provides,” states Sara Posada Gómez, Doctor of Psychology from the University of San Buenaventura and specialist in clinical and child neuropsychology from the University of Antioquia.

According to the psychologist, chemical processes occur in the brain while playing, such as the release of endorphins and serotonin, substances that lower stress levels and improve mood. Others such as acetylcholine and dopamine are also activated, which facilitate intellectual, creative, and motor skills.

Posada says that even from the time children are babies, the mere interaction of the child with his mother is already a playful activity in itself, which positively affects his emotional abilities and influences the development of the child’s personality. “Under normal conditions, the child is expected to be born with the disposition and biological mechanisms that allow him to explore and have a healthy development,” she adds.

In this sense, toys are elements that acquire a special value. Their use, in addition to stimulating imagination and fantasy, also encourages social interaction, since, generally, they lend themselves to being shared with others.

“The use of toys allows the child to create characters, assume roles, put themselves in another’s position, resolve conflicts, learn to share, to wait their turn, handle frustration and regulate their own emotions, such as sadness after losing, in the case of competitive games, for example,” states the specialist.

That is why they are important even as an evaluation tool in therapeutic processes for children and adolescents. But, over the years, the rattle and action figures are often replaced by other things, such as cards, chess, or videogames, going beyond their exploratory character and becoming a way of socializing and expressing emotions and thoughts.

This is how it makes sense with adolescents, when you have to solve problems and assume the consequences, and in adulthood, a stage in life where, according to the specialist, emotions of sadness, nostalgia, and loneliness appear. “At this point in life, play can be particularly rewarding, not because of the game itself, but because of the proximity to others,” she says.

In addition, the parental role is important. Knowing how to interpret stages of growth, getting involved and spending time with the child is just as important as giving them independence to interact with others. This way, they can learn to overcome obstacles, reach agreements, and regulate emotions, which are vital for being able to stand on their own in the future in any situation.•

The possibility of socializing, as well as managing stress and promoting fun are benefits of play for both children and adults, states the Mayo Clinic.

Benefits for adults

Playing is a fundamental mechanism, it is a tool that is available throughout one’s life that does not disappear, but rather transforms as one gets older. American philosopher Marta Craven Nussbaum even defines it as an activity as necessary at any stage of life as food, education, or work. After adolescence, play is no longer just a mechanism for exploration and learning, but it becomes a form of socialization. New ways of entertaining friends and family appear to strengthen these bonds of affection or foster camaraderie. Thus, play takes on particular importance in adulthood since it creates new relationships between a group of individuals, is a source of happiness, and is an instrument for better coexistence. That is why recreational days are so important during the celebration of special occasions with your family or in spaces like work, which are occasionally a source of stress. Play encourages relaxation and facilitates relationships between peers.