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This Playtime Activity Is The Secret To Teaching Preschoolers Important Life Skills

Parents are constantly looking at ways they can help their child developmentally. They do everything they can to ensure their children are provided everything within their means to have as many advantages as possible. What many parents of preschoolers don't realize is there's one simple way to help their children learn important life skills that will contribute to their development as they grow older that's not only incredibly important but also free.

A study out of the University of Otago in New Zealand has found that simply playing with your kids can help teach them the life skills they will need as they grow older, Science Direct reports.

The study suggests that by playing with their children parents are able to teach them self-regulation and how to control their own emotions. "Self-regulation is essential for school readiness and success as you need to be able to sit still, not blurt out answers, persist with tasks, manage frustrations, and give and take in social relationships," lead author Dr. Dione Healey, of the Department of Psychology, said.

Dr. Healey also pointed out that how a child regulates their behavior at a young age can be a sign of how they may act like an adult. "The Dunedin longitudinal study has shown that poor self-regulatory skills at age three predict a wide array of adverse adult outcomes including higher rates of incarceration, poorer physical health, higher unemployment rates, and mental health difficulties," she added.

"Therefore if we can find ways to improve self-regulation in preschoolers we can alter the life course trajectory for many individuals."

Dr. Healey's study focused on structured play and how effective it is in teaching kids how to handle issues that may arise. Sixty families with children ranging in age from three to four were given one of two different methodologies to use for a period of 8 weeks. The Triple P plan or Positive Parenting Programme which is the standard program used in New Zealand works with children by having their parents ensure they know the consequences of bad behavior before play, therefore allowing the children to self-regulate.

playing with blocks
Credit: iStock / LightFieldStudios

If the children act out, they know what the punishment or consequences will be. Parents are encouraged to use methods such as quiet time and time outs in this method to help their children realize where the poor behavior was and how to correct it.

Enhancing Neurobehavioural Gains with the Aid of Games and Exercise (ENGAGE) was the other method introduced by Dr. Healey that saw parents engaging in structured play with their kids for a minimum of 30 minutes a day. When kids are playing with others, they use strategy and patience and often employ teamwork in how they play. Having a parent involved helps them to guide their children towards good behavior while playing instead of simply getting frustrated and acting out.

The study followed up with the participating families 12 months after the initial 8-week study, and Dr. Healey's team found those who used the play based method of ENGAGE were just as effective in seeing improved children's behavior as the Triple P approach. "Our results indicate that parents spending regular one-on-one time playing with their young children has the same positive effect on children's behavior as using behavior management techniques which have a long history of being effective in managing child behavior," Dr. Healey said.

Parents know that taking the time to play with their kids is important for simply bonding and enjoying each other, but this study shows it can have a real effect on how that child learns to adapt to life as they grow up.

"With ENGAGE, we now have an additional treatment option for young, at-risk children that is enjoyable, low cost, easily accessible and associated with long-term maintenance of treatment gains. It's good to have a choice of equally effective options as what works well for one family may not work as well for another," Dr. Healey says.

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