In order to develop socially, emotionally and cognitively, children need plenty of free, unstructured play – in other words, lots of old-fashioned free playtime, says a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, called “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics believes pediatricians should check children’s levels of stress, to make sure they are not being overloaded with activities and tasks that are designed to do them good, but could end up having the opposite effect.

Too many children in the USA have to give up free play time because their parents, in a bid to help them do well, send them to classes and encourage them to take part in “development activities”. Several pediatricians, says the report, are finding that some children are becoming stressed – they are not getting enough ‘downtime’.

The report says that not only does unstructured play give children time to adjust to a new school setting, but it also allows them to use their creativity, find out what they really like, acquire and practise their social skills, and solve problems. Children who can take part in unstructured free play tend to become more resilient.

The report urges parents to be guided by what their child is like, rather than how well other kids down the road are doing.

The report lists many factors which could contribute towards childhood stress:

— changes in family structure
— competitive college admissions process
— federal education policies
— fear a child may fall behind academically
— less physical activity
— a hurried lifestyle

If a child has to live a hurried lifestyle, while at the same time he/she has less free time, he/she can become more stressed and anxious. The report states that some children could even become depressed. Although excelling academically has its benefits, the reports stresses that parental love, role modeling and guidance are what really matter for success in life.

The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds (PDF)

American Academy of Pediatrics