The Power of Play: Enhancing Child Development Through Parental Engagement


The Power of Play: Enhancing Child Development Through Parental Engagement


The following blog briefly outlines a parent coaching call to help parents to play more with their children to build stronger bonds and to overcome barriers they might face.

When I’m coaching parents whose children may be experiencing social, emotional, behavioural, or mental health difficulties, I frequently ask them how much quality time they spend engaging in play with their children.

The response I often hear is “I don’t have time” or “the demands of work and life don’t allow me to” or “what’s the point - they’re quiet…leave them alone.” In reality however, once they learn about time management and home organisation systems, they manage to find pockets of time. I tell parents all they need is 10-15 minutes of consistent one to one time with each of their children. Just for clarity, you can have family games time, or an afternoon in the park or other times when you play with your child freely, but this 10-15 minute period is specific quality time that builds a connection, bond and trust doing an activity that your child loves and is set up as described below.   

What is Play?

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” - Fred Rogers

Research has highlighted the profound impact of parental involvement in play on a child's psychological well-being. Play isn't merely a frivolous pastime; it serves as a powerful tool for nurturing a child's emotional resilience and fostering a strong bond between parent and child.

There are four different types of Play: 

1) Physical Play 

  • Offers all kinds of opportunities for running, jumping, stretching, lifting, carrying, reaching, placing, and balancing. 
  • Provides a positive contribution to the child’s health.
  • Promotes large muscle development, and improves small muscle control and hand-eye coordination.

2) Manipulative and Exploratory Play

  • Involves problem-solving, manipulating, exploring, and gaining control over the activity.
  • Enhances perceptual motor skills.

3) Games

  • Are governed by rules and conventions.
  • Preschool children do not really understand rules in board games and card games yet – not until they are about 7-8.

4) Symbolic or Make-Believe Play

  • Involves manipulating symbols and ideas rather than actual objects.
  • It allows children to think symbolically to work things out for themselves. 
  • It gives them a better idea of what is real and what isn’t.
  • Pretending is a good way for them to experience the feelings and emotions of others.
  • They learn how to be sensitive to the impact of their actions on other people.

Understanding the various forms of play is crucial for parents seeking to foster their child's holistic development. From physical play that enhances motor skills to manipulative and exploratory play that promotes cognitive abilities, each type of play serves a unique purpose in nurturing a child's psychological and physical growth.

Parents are often unaware of the significance of play in a child's development and we first  do an exercise about their benefits and barriers to play. This is what most parents say - do you have other benefits or barriers to add to the list?

Benefits and Barriers

Positive Benefits of Play 

  • Adults help to avoid and resolve conflicts
  • Improves problem-solving skills
  • Child’s vocabulary increases
  • Important for adult to show approval to improve child’s creativity and imagination and build self-esteem
  • Encouragement enhances a child’s play experiences
  • Modeling gives the child a good example to follow
  • Gives the adult a chance to re-live their childhood
  • Adults can get to see their children’s abilities

Barriers to Play

  • Adults’ misconception that children will automatically learn how to play if they are given toys and left to play on their own. They assume it is not necessary to participate because ‘they are only playing’– they feel it is time-wasting.
  • Adults feel they don’t have the necessary skills to know how to play with children.
  • Adults are reluctant or embarrassed.
  • Adults feel that they should supervise children and give them structured lessons on ‘How to…’ the ‘right way!’
  • Adults get competitive during play.

Psychological Benefits of Parental Play

Children often experience various psychological challenges as they grow, including anxiety, friendship issues, self-esteem struggles, bullying, and even depression. However, through the involvement of parents in diverse forms of play, these challenges can be effectively addressed and overcome. Several case studies exemplify the transformative power of parental engagement in play, showcasing its ability to alleviate and resolve psychological hurdles. When parents play with their children, they usually find a reduction in the presenting issues they are facing.  

Here are some example case studies:

Overcoming Anxiety:

6-year-old Lily had been experiencing anxiety about starting school. Through role-playing school scenarios with her mother, Lily gained a sense of control over her fears and developed coping strategies for managing her anxiety.

Resolving Friendship Issues:

8-year-old Aiden struggled with making friends. By engaging in group play activities at home with his parents, Aiden learned valuable social skills and gained confidence, leading to improved relationships at school.

Boosting Self-Esteem:

10-year-old Emily had low self-esteem due to constant comparison with her peers. Through building intricate structures with her father during manipulative play, Emily gained a sense of accomplishment and developed a more positive self-image.

Addressing Bullying:

12-year-old Aishah was a victim of bullying. Playing strategic board games with her parents helped her understand the importance of teamwork and problem-solving, empowering her to handle bullying situations more effectively.

Combating Depression:

14-year-old Jonah experienced symptoms of depression. Engaging in imaginative play with his parents allowed Jonah to express his emotions in a safe environment, fostering a sense of connection and emotional release.

The Impact of Just 10 Minutes of Play

Even a short 10-minute play session can significantly contribute to a child's emotional well-being and cognitive development. This brief yet meaningful interaction acts as a daily emotional anchor, reinforcing the parent-child relationship and providing a nurturing environment for a child's psychological growth.

There is an area of relationship psychology which focuses on helping young people for emotional, social and well-being confidence. This is called emotion coaching and it puts emphasis on helping children to understand and regulate their emotional reactions rather than attempting to get them to change their behaviour through reward and punishment systems (Gottman, Katz & Hoover, 1996), and has two elements, Empathy and Guidance.

Engaging with your child through play would help and build their cognitive understanding of their emotions and how they connected to their behaviour i.e. it helps them to connect the dots and it encourages them to choose more positive self regulation techniques.

How to Set up a Play Time Routine

1. Let your child know that on xxx day, at xxx time, you will have his/her undivided attention to play in a way that he/she chooses. Be consistent with whatever you decide.

2. Tell him/her that we will still use the house rules when you play together.

3. In addition, you tell him/her that you will be playing for 10 mins - 30 mins (depending on your time availability)

4. Tell him/her, whatever you take out for play must be put away and tidied up by you (your child) when we finish. 

5. I will give you a 5 minute warning when play will end and the time.

Be prepared in the beginning for the play to go over the allocated time because it's a new habit, but you need to stop at the set time and be consistent. 

Here are some essential tips for effective playtime with your child:

Follow Your Child's Lead: Instead of dictating the rules, let your child take the lead during play. Encourage their imagination and creativity by allowing them to explore their own ideas and fantasies. Be the observer and just comment on what you see without any judgement.

Pace the Play to Suit Your Child: Understand that children may take time to master an activity. Avoid rushing them into new tasks and give them the space to explore and develop at their own pace.

Be Sensitive to Your Child's Cues: Watch for signals indicating whether an activity is too complex for your child's developmental level. Adjust your approach accordingly to prevent frustration and promote a positive play experience.

Encourage Make-Believe and Role-Playing: Foster your child's imaginative skills by encouraging make-believe scenarios and role-playing. This not only enhances their creativity but also helps them understand and empathise with others' emotions.

Praise and Encourage Creativity: Focus on praising your child's efforts and creativity during play rather than critiquing or correcting their actions. This positive reinforcement fosters their self-esteem and motivates further exploration.

Be an Appreciative Audience: Act as an engaged and supportive audience during playtime. Encourage your child's activities and show genuine interest in what they are doing, allowing them to feel valued and confident in their play.

Use Descriptive Commenting: Instead of bombarding your child with questions, provide descriptive commentary about their play. This approach promotes language development and encourages their independent thinking.

Encourage Independent Problem-Solving: Support your child's problem-solving abilities by offering guidance without taking over the task. Encourage them to find solutions independently, fostering their sense of accomplishment and self-reliance.

Give Attention to Play: Acknowledge and appreciate your child's quiet and appropriate play. By giving attention to their positive behaviour during playtime, you discourage negative attention-seeking behaviours.

Maintain a Positive Play Environment: Ensure that playtime is a positive and supportive environment, free from unnecessary pressure or power struggles. Encourage laughter, enjoyment, and a sense of shared fun during play.

By incorporating these simple practices into your playtime routine, you can create a nurturing and supportive environment that promotes your child's emotional, cognitive, and social growth. Remember, play isn't just about having fun; it's a powerful tool for building a strong and lasting bond with your child.


Prioritising parental engagement in play holds immense potential for shaping a child's psychological resilience and well-being. By recognising the psychological benefits of play, understanding the diverse forms of play, and overcoming associated barriers, parents can contribute significantly to their child's emotional growth and overall mental health. Incorporating playful interactions into daily routines not only nurtures the parent-child relationship but also lays a strong foundation for the child's future emotional development and well-being.

If you, or someone you know would benefit from parent coaching, please contact me.  Alternatively, if you would like to understand and implement how to cultivate a happy safe home, you can do that through my online course, How To Create An Emotionally Safe Home.

Want some ideas on activities you can do to play and spend quality time with your child? Email with the subject line "Play" for my free booklet of 24 ideas just for you!

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