How encouraging tweens to play can improve their self-esteem

Zofishan Umair
Zofishan Umair
Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 6 mins read

Does this journey sound familiar to you? In their infancy, your child wanted nothing to do with the world and everything to be about you. All they wanted was to play with you and maybe a few everyday objects that surrounded you.

‘Wow, a pan that makes a ruckus! How fun!’

In their toddler years, the world became their playground, and yes, that included the dangerous electrical sockets.

‘Fun idea:  Let’s try and poke a metal spoon in there and see what happens. Oh my God, my parents are such a killjoy.’

Enter the childhood years, and now they want to play with everyone—and I mean everyone! From their imaginary friend to that kid who has snot running down his nose and will pass on the virus to your kid, and even the stray cat that looks ready to attack. And of course, you!

And then come the tween years.

Now all they want is their choice of gadget and some screen time. When you suggest they go outside and play, it apparently translates as, ‘Why don’t you go outside and make a few TikTok videos?’

Nope. That’s not what you meant.

Define “play time’ for a tween

Welcome to the tween years. An age where your little ones are too old for dolls and pretend play, but too young to be left unsupervised with friends. So, what exactly do tweens do apart from tapping and scrolling on their phones, and does that count as play?

Well, play is anything that is done for recreational pleasure and enjoyment. And with a tween being stuck in a schedule full of studies, after-school programmes, and practise, the need for some stress-free time, aka play, is very important.

This could be anything from putting on a talent show to making silly runway dresses and even a game night to help them bond with friends and parents.

Play could mean different things for different teens. For one kid, fun could be an hour spent building a car out of old cardboard boxes or even playing catch with their dog, while for another kid it could mean playing a game of chess or painting rocks.

Board games, kids craft kits, designing animation, or coding—all come under the category of “play,” as long as they are relaxing and fun!

Of course, nothing beats sports like swimming, cycling, and even some spin classes. So when it comes to play, just think of it as free time where they’re enjoying, expressing, and going around doing what they love.

The power of play: Why is play good for tweens?

1. Imagination and creativity

Play is a fundamental part of childhood and is often associated with younger children. Engaging in play can foster imagination and creativity in tween by allowing them to explore, experiment, and express themselves in new and exciting ways.

2. Interests and strengths

Playing offers tween various opportunities to explore different activities and interests, allowing them to discover what they enjoy and are good at. This can lead to a sense of competence and confidence in their abilities.

Play can be a great way for tweens to reduce stress and anxiety, as it allows them to engage in activities that promote relaxation and positive emotions, such as laughter and joy, and forget about their worries.

It also improves their mental health and promotes positive emotions, reduces stress, and encourages children to build social skills and make friends.

3. Problem-solving and rules

Developing problem-solving skills and understanding the importance of rules is essential to pre-teenage development. By playing, children are exposed to opportunities to work through challenges and negotiate rules with others in a safe and supportive environment.

4. Learn to win – and lose and regulate their emotions

Playing helps tweens learn to win and lose gracefully. This helps them to learn to regulate their emotions by providing opportunities to experience and manage a range of emotions in a fun and low-stress environment.

5. Develop social skills

When children engage in play, they interact with their peers. This helps them develop essential social skills such as communication, collaboration, and problem-solving, as well as empathy and teamwork.

6. Less screen time

According to recent research conducted by Turf Australia, Australian children under the age of 12 spend more than 2.3 hours per day in front of a screen, which is alarmingly high. Increasing physical activity, encouraging social interaction, stimulating creativity and imagination, and providing a break from technology and playing can help children get their creative hats on.

7. Just be a kid

When children engage in play, they use their imaginations and creativity to create their own worlds and scenarios, which helps them tap into their natural sense of wonder and exploration and allows them to experience the world playfully and creatively. Playing provides kids with a sense of freedom and autonomy that can be hard to come by in other areas of their lives, as they get to make and set the rules.

Why should children be encouraged to play sports?

Encouraging children to play sports can have numerous benefits, not just for their physical health but also for their mental, social, and emotional well-being.

Sports allow children to learn important life skills such as teamwork, communication, and resilience while encouraging them to have fun and stay active. They also teach them how to accept defeat and come back stronger!

Sports offer tweens the chance to improve their self-esteem by providing opportunities to develop skills, receive positive feedback, feel a sense of belonging, overcome challenges, and create a more positive self-image.

Tweens who are into sports are also less likely to give in to peer pressure when it comes to crime and drugs.

How can parents encourage and support play for children?

Give unstructured free time

Give them time to be bored and just be. We put our kids on such a schedule that it is hard for them to let their minds wander and explore their interests without having an ulterior motive.

Lead by example

Are you a workaholic who doesn’t take out the time to play a game or sport? Well, then you need to learn how to play before you can teach your child. Start having a family game night to bond with the kids, or sign up for tennis lessons and learn together. Take them to the beach and spend the day building sandcastles and playing catch.

Play is not ‘practice’

If your child loves designing games, let him take it up as a hobby without hinting at the possibility that he could be a game programmer someday. The minute you add money and goals to play, it stops being ‘play time’ and becomes a practise or training session for the future, limiting their desire to learn.

Hey, there’s a reason why a football match with dad goofing around can leave you with a smile on your face but being defeated during a football practise match with another team can have you feeling bummed.

Let your child be at the end of the day; it’s all about having fun and having a good time.

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