Why play matters – plus, easy ways for dads to bond with baby at home

Posted on 31 December 2019

Feeding, sleeping, bathing, pooping – your new baby’s day is jam packed. But the most important time in your little one’s schedule might just be the most fun.

Back in 1989, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recognised play as one of the fundamental rights of a child. This enshrines playtime as a potent and irreplaceable form of learning. But as we were warned in 2007 in a report by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), this crucial element of optimal childhood development is at risk and must be protected.

Playtime is essential to the cognitive, social, emotional and physical development of your baby, explains Dr Adré van Schalkwyk, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Milnerton, and it doesn’t end there – it is also a crucial part of the ongoing wellbeing of children as they grow up.

There are different kinds of play that develop as your child grows up. There are also various forms of distraction and pressure, from electronic media to academic activities, that encroach on and limit this precious time. Encouraging and allowing for playtime is a key part of helping your child grow into their full potential.

In the 1930s, American sociologist Mildred Parten Newhall identified six primary forms of free play. Playtime, she argued, is a child’s work – by doing it, they learn about themselves and how and where they fit in the world.

When a child is simply engaged in observing the world around them, this is unoccupied play. If they are alone, focused on an activity without noticing what is happening around them, this is solitary or independent play.

Onlooker play is the act of watching others at play without taking part. Parallel play – also known as adjacent play or social coaction – is playing separately from others, while close to them and perhaps mimicking the actions of the playing children.

Once a child shows they are interested in the children who are playing, but not in coordinating their actions with the game, this is associative play. This form of play becomes cooperative play when a child shows interest in both in the people playing and in the organised activity itself.

Parten argued that these forms of play are a child’s work – they evolve the way in which a child experiences the world, and express their understanding of themselves within it. All of these are essential stepping stones in a child’s optimal development, says the AAP, as they aid in healthy brain and physical development and encourage children to build a strong sense of self-esteem, emotional resilience and confidence in social situations.

Along with moms, fathers play a key role in fostering good playtime habits in children. Michigan State University suggests three simple ways for dads to get involved: help create opportunities for your child to explore their imaginations, allow your child to lead the way and remain present and engaged as they express themselves.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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