Playing Helps Children Develop Emotional Regulation

Play is an important part of a child’s development. It enables them to engage creativity and learn necessary social skills. Children are often introduced to concepts like sharing, taking turns, and working together when they participate in group play. This critical time of development allows children to learn how to practice patience, empathy, and other necessary social skills. Although the research on play has demonstrated the many benefits, such as creativity and emotional maturity, few studies have looked at how creativity exhibited through play affects storytelling and divergent thinking, two aspects that further emotional regulation and enhance psychological development.

To address this, Jessica Hoffman and Sandra Russ of the Department of Psychology at Case Western Reserve University conducted a study involving 61 young girls in kindergarten through fourth grade. The team used the Affect in Play Scale to assess the girls’ mood processes and cognitive behaviors as they construed narratives. The researchers also relied on parent reports to measure emotional regulation and evaluated the girls for divergent thinking abilities throughout the task. They found the pretend play allowed the girls to express creativity that directly increased their divergent thinking abilities. The creative play enhanced storytelling skills of the participants and allowed them to express high levels of emotional regulation. The team also explored how executive functioning was affected by creative play but found no relationship.

Hoffman noted that the participants in this study were typically performing young girls and believes that additional research on clinical and nonclinical participants would further add to the limited literature on the many positive influences of pretend play. She said, “Overall, results of this study are promising with regards to the associations between pretend play and other important life skills for children.” With play therapy and other creative approaches receiving more attention in recent years, understanding the forces behind these often successful treatment methods is vital for clinicians interested in using these techniques.

Hoffan, J., Russ, S. (2012). Pretend play, creativity, and emotion regulation in children. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts 6.2, 175-184.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Donald

    June 29th, 2012 at 12:38 AM

    I think one thing that we all need to wonder about is this:We are nnaturally benefitted by play,as has been proven by theirs like these.Also it is observed that play only decreases as we grow up and many adults think of “play” as something only for children and not for adults.

    This is a very wrong concept because play can help,whether a child or an adult.But we are increasingly moving away from play and any form of activity and moving towards being a couch potato at times and someone who is a work-machine at other times.

    We need to be able to freely express ourselves in our activities and that will only lead to us improving as individuals.

  • Alexis

    June 29th, 2012 at 4:08 AM

    My brother has an only child whose mom stays home with her, which is great that they are able to do that, but that leaves my niece kind of isolated when it comes to having other children to play with as they live kind of far from anyone else. I have encouraged them to at least try to get her enrolled in some kind of mothers morning out program so she can have the chance to play with other kids a few days a week, but their feelings are that that defeats the purpose of my sister in law staying home with her. I seriously disagree. I feel that this is not something that you have to use for child care per se, but just a chance for her to get acclimated to another setting other than her home and give her some social skills that are needed for any child to be successful.

  • jared

    June 29th, 2012 at 8:49 AM

    having a skill is one thing.nurturing it and developing it further is yet every child needs this time to discover and develop themselves and play is something more important than most of us think it to be.

  • Clayton

    June 29th, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    These are skills that are better taught and received from a very young age instead of waiting til someone is an adult and then trying to teach that old dog new tricks.
    Social skills and learning how to play well with others are not things that come naturally to everyone; therefore there are times when we have to offer up those types of situations to give children the chance to get their own feel for the world and to be a part of something bigger than they are.
    This is the way that they learn that their words and actions have consequences, and how to make noce and get along with others.

  • carlos

    June 29th, 2012 at 5:10 PM

    Don’t you see those kids out there that no matter how much injteraction and play time they have had with other kids, they are still gonna be bad kids?

    It’s almost as if there are kids out there who are destined to misbehave and be bad. I have seen them grow out of that before, but I have also seen the ones that you coulld point at from very early on and know that they were always going to be snarky.

  • Susan Frye

    June 30th, 2012 at 5:58 AM

    Play is such a wonderful thing, for children and parents too!
    Get your child involved in some sort of play group from a very early age. This can either be through a neighborhood group, church group, and there are even many community centers that offer play programs for children from infant to school age.
    here are so many things that they can learn by being a part of this that they can’t learn simply fom being at home with their parents or even their siblings all the time.
    This will be such a benefit to any child, and well worth the time to find a group to involve your child with.
    And you may even make some friends along the way too!

  • Shay

    July 1st, 2012 at 8:22 AM

    Any time you give a child exposure to other children and opportunties for interaction with others beyond the people that they consider family, then you are giving them the chance to learn and grow in a whole host of ways. You give them the chance to learn to share, to learn to be sympathetic, to empathize, and even how to deal with things when it doesn’t go their way. All of these things are elements to grwoing up that they don’t need to be shielded from. They need to learn that getting on with others can be both fun as well as tiresome, a time share joy and a time to cry. But mostly it is about learning to live in a world with other people and finding ways to make things work when it doesn’t feel like they can. Great lessons there the way I see it.

  • Marina D

    July 2nd, 2012 at 4:45 AM

    we forget just how much value there is in play for children. this is a time to spend time with your child, give them time to spend with other children, and learn all about the concepts and skills of sharing and playing fair. it may not all click with them the first time, but modeling to them the appropriate behavior that you would like to see them display, that is such a valuable think that cannot be stressed enough. add to this the importance of spending time with your children and letting them experience fun play time with others, that is so critical to their overall well being.

  • 0 A.M

    July 2nd, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    “Playing Helps Children Develop Emotional Regulation”

    But seem like we are only decreasing their emotional regulation.Play is on the decline and time spent in front of the TV and other hand gets only rising.Not that they don’t offer chances of play but not the most optimal.Also these media have various drawbacks as we all know.

  • Granger

    July 3rd, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    I hate it when I see parents who could be playing with their kids and all they want to do is sit down and watch tv. We all need some down time, but isn’t it more important to spend some of that downtime as quality time with your kids?

  • Shepherd

    July 5th, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    This becomes very important in Asperger’s syndrome.

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