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Parents can 'reduce stress levels by playing with their children during lockdown'

08/04/2020
Evidence suggests playtime can also increase well-being, boost mental stamina and even strengthen the immune system

A fascinating new report by a Middlesex University academic has found parents in self-isolation during the COVID-19 crisis can reduce stress levels by playing with their children.

And the study claims laughter with children during playtime is as good for your immune system as a gym workout.

Dr Jacqueline Harding, a Senior Lecturer in Childhood Studies, analysed more than 100 different academic studies to uncover the benefits of interactions between parents/carers and young children while playing with objects.

“With one of the biggest social experiments to take place in recent history, my hope is that parents will be enlightened with the benefits of play to both themselves as well as their children and demonstrate how humanity has seized the opportunity to reprogram itself with playful relationships as vital and core to its existence," Dr Jacqueline Harding, MDX Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies.

The evidence suggests playtime can help reduce stress levels, increase well-being, boost mental stamina and even strengthen the immune system.

The ‘Playtime for Everyone’ report was published today and in conjunction with pre-school toy brand Fisher Price.

Alongside the study, Dr Harding has also developed her “Top Tips for Making the Most of Playtime During Lockdown” which give parents scientifically sound suggestions for a positive playtime.

Dr Harding, an international expert in Child Development and Neurophysiology, said: “This report reveals that playtime can be an antidote to stress and have many positive benefits for adults as well as kids.

“Keep playing with your child in whichever way you enjoy most, because the benefits can last a lifetime and, it’s good for children and great for you.”

In one study referenced by Dr Harding doctors describe "mirthful laughter" as the equivalent of "internal jogging" because it can lower blood pressure, stress and boost the immune system much like moderate exercise.

One area Dr Harding focuses on in her report looks at how constant stress releases the corrosive hormone called cortisol in the brain, and how playing with children helps to counteract this by providing a clever antidote.

Moreover parents and carers facing increased stress during the pandemic can boost their relationship with children through regular play-driven interaction, while at the same benefiting their kids who are unable to play with other youngsters.

Pauline de la Riviere, UK Marketing Director for Fisher-Price, says: “This new research brings together all the positives that can be gained through play for all the family which is particularly relevant for the times we are living.

“Whatever time you can spare to play, in whichever way you choose to play, there are no rights or wrongs, we hope to support parents and inspire them to keep on playing knowing there are benefits for them and their children which will help during this difficult time.”

The new study, part of the Fisher Price ‘Let’s Be Kid’s campaign encouraging parent playtime, has been released early to help families across the country impacted by the current coronavirus isolation.

It aims to show the social, psychological and physical benefits mums and dads can gain through playing with their children.

In her report analysis, published in full on MDX Minds, Dr Harding wrote: “The COVID-19 crisis is in full effect affecting so many countries, we are probably unwittingly in the throes of one of the biggest social experiments of our times.

“Young families have been forced to live in close proximity for an unidentified period (often in total isolation) with the extra role of acting as ‘teacher’ as well as parent, with nursery schools closed for an unspecified amount of time.

“With one of the biggest social experiments to take place in recent history, my hope is that parents will be enlightened with the benefits of play to both themselves as well as their children and demonstrate how humanity has seized the opportunity to reprogram itself with playful relationships as vital and core to its existence.

“Sitting down and playing could not only be the best thing you do for your child, it could also be the best thing you do for yourself as a parent.”

Pictures credit: Fisher Price

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