Child’s Play: Why it Matters

In the age of technology everywhere, it’s important to remember that REAL play is critical to your child’s development.

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Get Real for Language

Language is social and emotional. Going for coffee with a bestie will prove that to anyone, although socializing with a friend is using language we already know, and not the same as learning a language. However, the same principle applies when learning a language, even in infancy. John Hutton, M.D., clinical research fellow at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, co-owner of the Blue Manatee children’s bookstore, and author of the Baby Unplugged book series, says, “Babies only really process language when spoken to by a real person.” Audio, video and flash cards have no context to which the child can relate. What they relate to is their caregivers engaging them through play. Babies relate to holding familiar objects in their hands and hearing the words that label these objects coming from Mom and Dad. Apple. Shoe. Cup. All senses are engaged.

Play With Your Child

Connie Harrison, program manager for Every Child Succeeds at Beech Acres Parenting Center, stresses that trust and competence builds from creating firm attachments to parents as infants. When a child is first strongly attached, he’s then able to branch out and test the unknown world around him as he becomes a toddler, making playtime with your toddler crucial.

The Purpose of Boredom

Sometimes pretend play and imagination can get a bad rap, especially when it’s described as daydreaming. However, it plays a large role in learning and children need the opportunity to hone that skill. Consider when a child plays dress-up or when a child stalks around the back yard in search of dinosaur bones, she is still playing with real tangible items but she is also letting her brain take play to the next level. She’s creating new neural pathways and most importantly she’s learning how to deal with boredom — that anxious feeling a person gets when they don’t know what’s going to happen next.


Tantrums are a normal and expected developmental stage. Hutton says the choice the parent has is to either treat the symptom and pacify the toddler with a movie or a tech-based toy, or to address them developmentally. Tantrums are about communication. Toddlers do not yet have the ability to effectively communicate their frustrations. “Talk to them, or let them burn it out,” Hutton says. Easy to say when he’s not the one standing in the supermarket with a screaming, flailing toddler! But Hutton is also a parent and knows that we all get self-conscious over our toddler’s behavior. However, he warns that pacifying a cranky child with screen time will increase poor behavior in the long term. Imaginative playtime within the real-world setting directly affects the child’s ability to cope and lessens tantrum episodes because the child knows how to self soothe.

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Bonnie is an award-winning freelance writer and Communications Director for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Find her on social media @WriterBonnie

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