Summary: Adventurous play, particularly outdoors, was associated with less anxiety and depression in children.
Source: University of Exeter
Kids who spend more time playing adventurously have fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression and were happier during the first COVID-19 lockdown, new research finds.
In a study conducted by the University of Exeter, parents were asked how often their children played “exciting and exciting” games that they might have felt fear and insecurity about.
The study, published in Child Psychiatry and Human Developmentcomes at a time when today’s children have fewer opportunities for adventurous play out of sight of adults, such as climbing trees, riding bicycles, jumping off high surfaces, or playing anywhere out of sight of adults.
The aim of the study was to test theories that adventurous play provides learning opportunities that help build children’s resilience and thereby prevent mental health problems.
The research team surveyed nearly 2,500 parents of children ages 5 to 11. The parents answered questions about their child’s play, their general mental health (pre-COVID) and their mood during the first COVID-19 lockdown.
The study was conducted with two groups of parents: a group of 427 parents living in Northern Ireland and a nationally representative group of 1,919 parents living in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland).
Researchers found that children who played more time outside had fewer “internal problems” called anxiety and depression. These kids were also more positive during the first lockdown.
The impact was relatively small, which is to be expected given the variety of factors affecting children’s mental health. However, the results were consistent even after the researchers adjusted for a variety of demographic variables, including the child’s gender, age, parent’s employment status, etc., and parent’s mental health.
The study in the UK group also found that the effect was more pronounced in children from lower-income families than in children growing up in higher-income households.
Helen Dodd, Professor of Child Psychology at the University of Exeter, who led the study, says: “We are more concerned than ever about children’s mental health and our findings show that we have the potential to help improve children’s mental health by ensuring they have ample opportunities for adventurous play.
“This is really positive because play is free, instinctive and rewarding for kids, available to everyone and requires no special skills. We now urgently need to invest in and protect natural spaces, well-designed parks and adventure playgrounds to support the mental health of our children.”
Dan Paskins, Director of UK Impact at Save the Children says that “every child needs and deserves opportunities to play. This important research shows this is even more important in helping children thrive after missing out on everything during COVID-19 restrictions.
“More play means more happiness and less anxiety and depression. That’s why Save the Children supports the Summer of Play campaign, which brings together organizations from across the country to pledge their support so kids can have fun, spend time with friends, and enjoy freedom.”
Jacqueline O’Loughlin, chief executive of PlayBoard NI, welcomes the results, saying that “this study emphasizes the importance of adventurous play.
“Children and young people need freedom and opportunities to face challenges and risks in their everyday playful adventures. Research shows that playing, taking risks, and experiencing excitement outdoors all contribute positively to children’s mental health and emotional well-being. The rewards of allowing children to self-regulate and overcome challenges in their play are widespread and far-reaching.
“Adventurous play helps children build the resilience needed to cope and deal with stress in challenging situations.”
About this game and news from mental health research
Author: press office
Source: University of Exeter
Contact: Press Office – University of Exeter
Picture: The image is in the public domain
Original research: Open access.
“Child’s Play: Exploring the Association Between Playtime and Child Mental Health” by Helen F. Dodd et al. Child Psychiatry and Human Development
Child’s play: Exploring the relationship between playtime and child mental health
It is believed that adventurous play provides learning opportunities that help prevent mental health problems in children. In this study, data from two samples are used to examine associations between the amount of time children aged 5–11 years spend in adventurous play and their mental health.
For comparison, adventurous play time and outdoor play time are also examined. Study 1 includes a sample of 417 parents, Study 2 includes data from a nationally representative sample of 1919 parents.
Small, significant associations were found between adventurous play and internalized issues, as well as positive impacts during the UK’s first Covid-19 lockdown; Children who spend more time engaging in adventurous play had fewer internalization issues and more positive impacts during the Covid-19 lockdown. Study 2 showed that these associations were stronger for children from lower-income families than for children from higher-income families.
The results are consistent with theoretical hypotheses about adventurous play.