A Parent Is Born
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A Parent Is Born

3 Ways Lack of Play Affects Children

These effects can manifest into later life as well …

Photo by Robo Wunderkind on Unsplash

I have written multiple articles on the benefits of play, the need for children to have unstructured free play time and the wondrous ways in which play can assist children in becoming creative thinkers, problem-solvers, empathetic towards others and much more.

But as we come across increased research on the decline of play among children, it’s also necessary to talk about the effects of deprivation of play — what happens if children don’t play enough?

Before we get into these effects, I’d like to summarise the importance of play in one sentence — the United Nations declares play as a fundamental right equal to the right to shelter and education. So why is there a decline to begin with?

Psychologist Peter Gray says the decline in free play is “at least partly because adults have exerted ever-increasing control over children’s activities.

In an attempt to ensure that our children are smarter, sharper all-rounders, we have enrolled them into a host of activities leaving little to no time for play, which in turn may thwart their cognitive and emotional development.

Here’s how a lack of free play can affect your child in the long run:

1. Reduces confidence:

In the quest to excel at sports, academics, debates, writing etc., a child can feel compelled to compare themselves to others. Further, overcrowding of activities will prevent the child from figuring out what his or her true talents are.

Not being able to meet expectations in such cases can cause a child to feel less than others, thus reducing their self-confidence.

In self-directed play, however, no expectations are set. It is truly an uninhibited time for children to take the lead, enjoy and let their ideas skills naturally emerge. Some children take roles of leaders during play; others may exhibit a skill for organising, and others ay thrive in collaborative tasks. This type of joyous learning can boost confidence.

With play, the possibilities are endless for children to discover their true talents. (Image from Learning Matters)

2. Increases anxiety:

Children are expected to hop from one after-school activity to the other, leading to immense pressure to do well in everything from school to extracurricular activities. They seldom have autonomy and the ability to pursue their ideas. This lack of control can cause anxiety.

Johanna Simmons, a Vancouver-based play therapist and family counsellor, says: “Children never have the chance to just be. In that free time, free play, children would play out their anxiety but now they’ve got no outlet for it.”

This anxiety and lack of enthusiasm can manifest later in life as well.

The State of the World’s Children 2021 survey found that around 14 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds in India, or 1 in 7, reported often feeling depressed or having little interest in doing things.

Play, on the other hand, releases endorphins or the feel-good hormone, which can alleviate stress and anxiety.

While lack of play can cause anxiety, playing releases endorphins or the feel-good hormone. (Image by Learning Matters)

3. Inhibits creativity:

Any structured activity such as art or craft, while creative, does not always provide a limitless scope for exploration. Children are still given instructions that they are expected to follow. This keeps their innate imagination and creative thinking restricted.

Through self-directed play, however, children are in charge of creating rules, deciding which games to play, resolving conflict, and solving problems. They can choose to turn a waste piece of cardboard into a useful commodity or create entirely new games. This type of creativity cannot be replicated in organised and pre-determined activities.

Free play where only some easily available materials are provided helps children explore their imagination. (Image from Learning Matters)


While these are three critical consequences of the lack of play, it can also limit interpersonal skill development, bonding with nature and physical activity. In the many years of being an educator and in the history of time, we have seen no substitutes for play nor should there ever be. Play is what comes most naturally to children, and they must be allowed to enjoy it without any adult led ideas and pre-determined outcomes.




Because the moment a child is born, a parent is born, too.

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Sonya Philip

Sonya Philip

Founder, Learning Matters

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