Significance of play in Child's life
When we envision the picture of a child, the canvas is often filled with the colors of innocence, purity, play, mischievousness, etc. To imagine children without play is near impossible and it is this aspect of the child’s life, which garnered significant attention in psychoanalysis especially in the post-Freudian era.
Play for children is not just a physical activity by which physical growth and one’s cognitive development occurs. It is also not just a way of building one’s social life. Play is most importantly an important way of exploration and expression of one’s feelings, thoughts, and events in one’s life either consciously or more often than not unconsciously. Children during play can very openly state their innermost conflicting feelings by projecting them onto the roles or characters they are presently exhibiting. Therefore it holds a special and most important place in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis.
Play is a child’s mode of communication. Until the time the child is not equipped enough to share its feelings through words, play is the only language they know. Play helps children in distinguishing the external from the internal world. By first knowing the difference, they eventually through the help of significant others; understand the interdependent relationship the internal and external world share and in this way equip themselves with the necessary skills to balance the same. Play as a medium helps the child to slowly process the important distinction between illusion and disillusionment and allow the organic movement between them. If one were interested in understanding the significance of play, it is always useful to look up Donald W. Winnicott who has written various books on this topic from his personal experiences with child clients. The vignettes he shared are extremely enlightening and thought-provoking which actually helps us in understanding the complex world children live in. Children are known for their sensitivity. They don’t yet understand the metaphorical language of the world. For them, what shows on the surface is the truth, and it is for this reason that it becomes extremely important to take serious consideration of the issues children face very early in life. If these issues are not addressed with timely intervention, they are at a higher risk of manifesting into severe personality issues and disorders, bringing unwanted harm to one’s personal, academic, and future relationships.
From the time an infant is a few days old to when it attains the age of 4/5 years, the concept of play is engaged with through various stages. These are important developmental milestones because they lay the foundation for the child’s future interactions with the world; be it family, friends, other relationships, etc. We may all have noticed infants lost in their various body parts. They would go about moving their hands, take hold of their legs and rotate it in a certain motion, but the toes in their mouth, etc. Infants cannot decipher the fact that the various body parts they see constitute one whole body. It is through the constant exploration of their body, body parts, and its movement which leads them to understand this reality. This exploration may be termed as Unoccupied Play. In this way, the infant slowly proceeds through the various stages of play wherein starting from an exploration of how their body moves, they go on to playing with themselves as their company which is termed as Solitary Play. We are most likely to observe this in the form of them playing with toys or any object they come across. For instance, infants putting sand in their mouths can be a good example. Then comes Spectator Behavior wherein the child is not yet interested in playing with children of similar age but they sure observe them playing. The child eventually starts playing with other children but not necessarily in interaction with them. In other words, the child indulges in what is termed as parallel play wherein the child might play in the presence of other children playing but not necessarily with other children. In this way, the child then proceeds to also develop the skills to play in interaction with others which can be termed as Associate and Cooperative Play. If one were to observe and attempt to understand the stages mentioned, we see the slow and gradual progression of an infant towards an integration of the self and the other wherein the boundaries while being clear also highlight an interdependent relationship between the two.
The expression is very important especially during the formative years of life. While as adults we can express our innermost feelings with a pinch of trust to others through words, children are not always equipped to do the same. For them to even understand the struggles and challenges of adult life, play becomes a medium. A child’s expression of their conflicts is precisely how they think: unfiltered and pure. And this can be achieved by them through play which allows that explicit truth to come out in the open.