Knowing How to Play Before School Reduces Risk of Mental Health Problems?

Importantly, this association often holds true even when researchers focus on small groups of children who are particularly at risk for mental health problems. It also applies when they consider other risk factors for mental health – such as poverty levels, or instances where the mother has experienced severe psychological distress during or immediately after pregnancy.

The findings suggest that giving young children who may be vulnerable to mental health problems access to well-supported opportunities to play with their peers at playgroups run by doctors therapists run their first years of life, which can be a way to significantly benefit their long-term mental health.

Research analysis

Dr Jenny Gibson, of the University of Cambridge, said, “We think this link exists because through playing with others, children acquire the skills to build strong friendships as they grow older. Even if they are at risk for poor mental health, friendship networks will often help them through.”


Vicky Yiran Zhao, a PhD student, added, “What is important is the quality, not the quantity, of peer play. For example, peer games encourage children to collaborate or activities that promote sharing, will have a beneficial effect.”

The researchers used data from 1,676 children in the Growing Up Australia study, which tracked the development of children born in Australia between March 2003 and February 2004. It included a lake. Profiles provided by parents and carers about how well children play in different situations by age 3. This includes different types of play by friends, including simple games. ; imaginative pretend play; goal-directed activities (such as building a tower from blocks); and cooperative games like hide and seek.

These four indicators of peer play are used to measure peer play – a child’s basic ability to interact with peers in a playful manner. The researchers calculated the strength of the relationship between that measure and reported symptoms of possible mental health problems – hyperactivity, and behavioral, emotional and friends – at the age of 7.

The study then analyzed two subgroups of children in the overall cohort. These are children who are highly ‘reactive’ (children who get frustrated very easily and are difficult to calm as a child) and children who have low ‘persistence’ (children who try to persevere when faced with a difficult situation). difficult task). Both of these characteristics are associated with poor mental health outcomes.

Across the entire data set, children with higher playability scores at age three were less likely to show signs of mental health difficulties than at age seven. For each unit increase in play with friends at age three, children’s measured scores for hyperactivity problems at age seven decreased by 8.4%, conduct problems decreased by 8 %, emotional problems down 9.8% and friend problems down 14%. This applies regardless of potential confounding factors such as maternal poverty and distress, and whether they have more opportunities to play with siblings and parents.

The effect is evident even in at-risk groups. In particular, among the 270 children in the ‘low persistence’ group, those who played better with their peers by the age of three were more likely to exhibit attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and less likely to have emotional and behavioral problems. friends than at the age of seven. This may be because peer-to-peer play often forces children to solve problems and confront unexpected challenges, and thus directly addresses low persistence.

The benefits of playing with friends are weaker for the high-reactive group, possibly because such children are often anxious and withdrawn, and less inclined to play with others. However, even in this group, better playing with friends at age three was associated with a decrease in hyperactivity at age seven.

The consistent link between playing with friends and mental health probably exists because playing with others supports the development of social cognitive and emotional self-control skills, such as the ability to understand and react to the emotions of others. These are the basics for building stable, reciprocal friendships. There is strong evidence that the better a person is socially, the better their mental health tends to be. For children, more social connections also create a virtuous cycle, as they often lead to more opportunities to play with friends.

The researchers suggest that assessing children’s access to peer play at an early age could be used to screen children at risk for future mental health problems. They also argue that giving families with children at risk access to high-quality peer-promoting environments, such as playgroups or small-group care with specialized child carers, career, can be an easy and low-cost way to reduce your chances of mental health problems later on.

“The standard offer at the moment is to put parents on a parenting course,” says Gibson. “We will likely focus more on giving children a better chance to meet and play with their friends. Their jobs, especially when other risk factors put their health at risk, are likely to be more focused. Children’s mental health can often be attributed to circumstances beyond their parents’ control.”

Research published in Child Psychiatry & Human Development.

Source: Eurekalert

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