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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Why making time to play with your children will make you happier

A new study from Lego says there is a direct link between playtime and happiness - for both adults and children

Relationships are being fractured and social skills are becoming scarcer in children because of the lack of social opportunities arising. Getty
Relationships are being fractured and social skills are becoming scarcer in children because of the lack of social opportunities arising. Getty

From building forts to inventing imaginary games, the most cherished childhood memories often revolve around playtime. But are modern-day parents making enough space in their busy schedules for play?

It’s what we played, and who we played with, that often leaves a mark on our memories long after childhood passes, but the pressures of hectic schedules and ever-present smartphones have changed the meaning of playtime for many families. And yet, the amount of time families are spending playing together has a direct effect on happiness, new research from Lego has found. Parents who dedicate more time to play also report feeling closer to their children and less stressed.

More than 13,000 parents and children from nine ­countries around the world took part in the survey, which found that nine out of 10 families who spent five hours or more playing each week felt happy, compared with just seven out of 10 who spent less than five hours. The Lego Play Well report also found that even when parents do make time for play, 61 per cent admit to being distracted by other demands such as work, household chores or social media. And it’s not just the parents – one in five children say they are too busy to play.

“Playing together is a fundamental cornerstone of family life for children and parents alike,” says family expert and author Jessica Joelle ­Alexander. “But with modern lifestyles busier than ever, and so much emphasis on formal education and structured ­activities, it can be easy to forget to make time for it. Given the positive effects it has on our well-being and happiness levels, family play should be the most important ‘homework’ of all.”

But it’s not all about time spent playing, according to Daniela Salazar, a ­clinical ­psychologist at The ­LightHouse Arabia in Dubai. “Playtime does not necessarily need a number of hours. In my ­personal belief, quality [­supersedes] the quantity,” she says. “Parents need to learn how to play with their children. Be fully engaged and present during playtime – even if you spend 15 minutes a day playing with your child, that is going to do its job. The type of interaction is what really ­matters when it comes to ­playtime together.”

What constitutes traditional play in 2018 will differ from family to family, but will almost certainly have a digital input. And while many parents still worry about the safety and sociability of digital play, Lego’s research has found that the overwhelming number of children asked – 81 per cent – still prefer playing with their parents over playing alone. The same number also said they wished their parents would play with them more.

Salazar says that while technology can contribute to educational play, it can also cause problems for families. “Technology is both a blessing and a curse,” she says. “It is a resource that brings a lot of opportunities and useful ­information to parents and children. However, we are often spending more time engaging with technology than with one another. Relationships are being fractured and social skills are becoming scarcer in children because of the lack of social opportunities arising. It needs to be used ­moderately and controlled actively by parents,” she explains.

But mum-of-seven and founder of Children’s Oasis Nursery, Charlotte Borghesi, believes it is important that ­children use technology in play to help with future digital skills. “For my younger ­children, we use the iPad and the iPhone for learning ­opportunities,” she says. “My 4-year-old loves to have a chat with Siri every now and again to see if she can answer some of his more challenging questions that come at a rate of tens per hour.

“I also see how important being digitally savvy is for the education and future careers of my children, as well as how important it is that they are educated on how to integrate it into their lives in a way that is controlled and incremental, rather than substituting actual play and learning experiences,” she explains.

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Whether or not children’s play involves a digital element, dedicating time for it is vital for development, says Katrina Mankani, managing director of Jumeirah International Nurseries and director of Positive Education, Sunmarke School and Regent International School, who recently gave a talk on strength-based parenting in Dubai. “Play is often viewed mistakenly as just a fun activity,” she explains. “The real function of play is much more complex. Young children express their interests through play. Through observation of play, parents can identify children’s inclinations and create opportunities for further learning and development.” Mankani’s advice to parents is to learn about and identify children’s patterns of play, creating opportunities to support and encourage them.

Julia Goldin, chief marketing officer of Lego Group, says: “The beauty of play is that it evolves and changes with each generation, yet its benefits remain constant. This report shows that digitalisation is providing more opportunities for immersive play. We will continue to evolve Lego play to seamlessly integrate digital and physical experiences for kids to ensure that they can continue to benefit from playful learning.”