April 08 2020

The “Playtime for Everyone” report amidst COVID-19

Dr Jacqueline Harding, a senior lecturer at Middlesex University and an international expert in child development and neurophysiology, discuss the Fisher-Price report and what it can tell us about the importance of playtime during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis is in full effect affecting 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. And, in many cases with the absence of grandparents or friends to lend a hand.

What can we learn from the “Playtime for Everyone” report?

I am delighted to have been part of this wider Fisher-Price campaign, “Let’s Be Kids,” which now takes on a new purpose in these unprecedented times that we find ourselves in. Will there be a mass breakdown in relationships between parents and young children or could we witness the wonder of true human survival based on a new appreciation of close playful social connection?

The answer lies in how we understand the science of the developing child while also taking care of parents’ own needs. Regardless of parenting style, it’s important to take into account the adult’s emotional and mental health. That might need to happen simultaneously while looking after young children in close quarters. Not to mention the needs of those who must work from home at the same time.

The science behind child development will now be visible – we know that the young child’s greatest need (excluding food, shelter and safety) is close human connection.

Quite simply, the science is twofold:

  1. Playful contact with an adult who cares for a young child and enjoys being with them, deeply impacts their neurophysiology and is the very real ‘education’ they need. Playful Triangulation unleashes the power of interpersonal neurobiology
  2. One of the most unexplored and remarkable scientific discoveries is that playful interaction between the parent/carer and the young child can act as an inoculation against the very stress that COVID-19 presents for parents themselves. Strengthening the immune system in every way is vital at this time.
Dr Harding’s Playful Triangulation

The scene is set for an unimaginable lockdown in society and the question is how will young families adapt? The hope is that thousands of young families will rise to this challenge and begin to carve out a new way of being that puts human connection at its centre and finds an antidote to stress. It is all about survival.

Ironically, there may well be a surge in human competence and a more fulfilled and emotionally competent family unit will emerge which in turn will benefit wider society. But we will all have to change our mind-set and see this as an opportunity in the face of adversity. And, for some parents the challenge will be even greater having to work from home, with restricted accommodation, and for many, no garden.

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.

We need to bring playfulness back and who better to show us how than our kids! 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.

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