x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The right way for your children to play in the UAE

Fun City's recent survey of children's play habits in the UAE offers some interesting insights into the state of play in this country - and not all of it is happy reading.

Gadgets might keep children quiet but for every hour of television they watch, they are 8 per cent less likely to eat fruit every day. Allen Donikowski / Getty Images
Gadgets might keep children quiet but for every hour of television they watch, they are 8 per cent less likely to eat fruit every day. Allen Donikowski / Getty Images

Fun City, the family leisure company, recently carried out research on the play habits of more than 400 children between the ages of 2 and 12 across the UAE.

The results were largely positive, finding that children tend to have a good balance between play and other activities during their daily routine.

Here are some of the key findings of the report and how parents might respond.

Extensive use of gadgets

Research showed an imbalance between active and passive play activities, with 26 per cent of children in the UAE spending an average of three hours a day watching TV or playing video or internet games.

Parent need-to-know: Technology might keep kids quiet but peace comes at a price. "An extensive use of gadgets and video games at an early age can have a negative impact on a child's attention span, adjustment to school as well as cause a drop in academic performance," warns Naeema Jiwani, a child development psychologist at the Human Relations Institute, Dubai (www.hridubai.com).

For every hour of television children watch, they are 8 per cent less likely to eat fruit every day, 18 per cent more likely to eat candy, and 16 per cent more likely to eat fast food.

It's not always easy to draw your child away from the screen. Therese Sequeira, a parent educator at KidsFirst Medical Center, Dubai (www.parentingdubai.com) offers these tips:

- Rotate toys so that children don't become "blind" to the ones they see around them every day.

- Teach your children how to play different games, such as Lego, board games and cards.

- Encourage your child to select what she will play with, such as toys, boxes, sports equipment, kitchen implements or sheets.

- Let your kids explore and get dirty.

- Encourage your child to set up his own play area.

- Praise your children when you see them playing in ways you like.

Solo play

The research also found that 62 per cent of children in the UAE tend to play alone.

Parent need-to-know:If your child frequently plays alone, consider setting up some play dates. "Children who have opportunities to engage in stable peer groups are more emotionally competent and better adjusted over time," says Jiwani.

If play dates aren't convenient, it's worth knowing that it's just as effective if parents engage in play with children as if they were peers. "The children of parents who spend at least half an hour a day engaging in child-directed play tend to have advanced social skills," explains Jiwani. Just don't forget that kids need downtime, too.

Limited outdoor activity

According to the research, on an average weekday children in the UAE spend less than an hour engaging in outdoor activity, which may explain why childhood obesity is a problem in the region.

Parent need-to-know: Although the environment makes playing outside difficult, Jiwani says: "Parents should try to provide their children with opportunities to play outdoors, especially during the winter months, and set up indoor play opportunities during the extreme summer months, such as swim clubs, badminton or karate classes." Sometimes a new location is all that's needed.

"Make play interesting by choosing different places to play, including the park, beach or desert," says Sequeira.

Four great things about play

Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognised by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. Put simply, play is the work of children.

- Play allows a child to be in charge. In their everyday lives children are always being told what to do and how to do it; when they get to be the boss it provides them with a sense of mastery of the world around them.

- Play builds self-esteem. Children often play at something they know they can do well, so don’t be tempted to push your child on to the next level or buy games for an older age group. Let your child enjoy being successful.

- Play helps children work out difficult emotions. A child who is worried about going to the dentist, for example, may deal with the anxiety by setting up a clinic for teddies with toothache.

- Play stimulates imagination. Whether they’re making a castle in the sand, a car garage out of a shoebox or dressing up as a king, children use creative games to stretch the limits of the world and experience fun in make-believe.