7 types of play that skyrocket a child’s social and emotional development, Angela Pruess

These seven types of play are particularly amazing for cultivating essential social and emotional skills including communication skills (listening skills), emotional intelligence (how to manage emotions in healthy ways), confidence (how to self-direct and persevere) and self-control (inhibiting impulses for the greater good).



Independent play


There are so many amazing benefits of your child engaging in play all on their own! When your child has a playdate with a party of 1, they have an important opportunity to practice leadership skills such as self-identity and self-confidence. They’re able to take charge of something all on their own, and put their own ideas into action!


Solitary play also gives your child a chance to enjoy their own company, developing qualities of self-sufficiency and self-contentment. These skills build the foundation for healthy relationships later in life!



Messy Play


Messy play is important for your child’s social and emotional skills as it helps to develop self-control and emotional regulation.


Engaging with different materials like dirt, sand, and slime (just to name a few), give your child a chance to strengthen their sensory processing skills and nervous systems. Exposure to many different sensory experiences helps their brains adjust to future sensory input they’ll encounter at school and in other new environments.



Dramatic/ Imaginative play


I can still remember playing ‘house’ almost every day with our big group of neighborhood kids in my neighbor’s basement.


Dramatic play allows kids to try out different roles and personalities and well as work through real-world situations in a stress-free and non-threatening environment.


Younger children don’t yet have the capacity to reflect on their own thoughts and emotions, so dramatic play is a prime way for kids to explore their own thoughts and emotions in regards to real-world situations including going to the doctor, being in a family and calling in a super-hero to solve a problem!


Dramatic play also helps your child develop impulse control and conflict resolution skills as a result of adhering to ideas about certain characters and interacting with other characters during play scenarios.



Physical Play


Studies have consistently shown the benefits of physical play and exercise on social and emotional functioning.


How does exercise improve learning? Engaging in physical play increases blood flow and oxygenation in the brain, boosting neural connectivity and stimulating nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, the center of learning and memory. So exercise actually changes the structure of our brains, with a number of benefits: improved attention and memory, increased brain activity and cognitive function, and enhanced mood and ability to cope with stress. -Edutopia



Sensory Play


From the time children are infants they use their senses to explore and gather information about the world. Sensory activities build important neuropathways that will help them navigate through the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and touches of the world throughout their lives!


Sensory play can also be extremely calming and help to regulate your child’s nervous system.


Offering your child many different types of sensory play will help to refine their thresholds for different types of sensory input, helping their brain to create stronger connections in order to learn valuable skills such as filtering out unnecessary sensory input in order to focus on a particular stimulus.



Cooperative Play


Cooperative play is just what it sounds like. When kids have moved through parallel play and are ready to interact cooperatively with one another, they begin to engage in play together.


Boardgame play is a fantastic example of cooperative play and introduces tons of opportunities to flex your child’s problem-solving, communication and conflict resolution muscles.



Symbolic Play


Symbolic play is when a child uses an object (perhaps a toy, art or character) to represent something else. It often serves as a therapeutic outlet for kids when they aren’t cognitively able to verbalize thoughts and emotions.


I use a lot of symbolic play when I do play therapy with kids. It’s a safe and secure way for kids to project their vulnerable thoughts and feelings onto another subject matter.



Angela Pruess

Child Therapist


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