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Home » Children's Health » The Importance of Play: Prioritizing Your Child’s Mental and Emotional Health

More than just family bonding and fun, screen-free play can boost your child’s mental health and well-being.

Anna Yudina

Senior Director of Marketing Initiatives, The Toy Association™

“Play provides an emotional outlet and helps reduce stress. That’s true for adults as well as kids.”

Children’s mental health challenges have been on the rise for the past decade, with the COVID-19 pandemic only accelerating the crisis. From March to October 2020, mental health-related emergency room visits increased by 24% among children ages 5 to 11 and 31% among children ages 12 to 17.

Even as the pandemic has largely subsided and life has begun to go back to normal, studies show that children in the United States are experiencing anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels. In the midst of what experts are calling a youth mental health crisis, parents are left searching for resources that can help their children stay physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy.

The importance of play

Parents seeking to support their child’s mental and emotional wellness are learning about the importance of screen-free play. In addition to simply helping your child have fun, play helps them develop critical cognitive, social, and emotional skills.

“Play helps kids develop and practice emotional intelligence,” said Anna Yudina, senior director of marketing initiatives at The Toy Association™, whose nonprofit initiative The Genius of Play™ provides free fun and educational resources for parents.

By strengthening their emotional intelligence (EQ), kids develop stronger empathy and learn self-regulation, the ability to manage and cope with their feelings.

“Young kids use imaginary play to process their feelings and emotions, including fear, anger, and frustration,” Yudina said. “Very often, how children play is a direct reflection of what they experience in real life, but play gives them a safe space to act it out.”

Fostering emotional wellness

To encourage fun and constructive play, The Genius of Play™ has collaborated with mental health expert and founder of Starr Therapy Talia Filippelli to launch the Emotional Wellness Playbook. The playbook is a free resource for families and educators looking to foster healthy emotional development in children.

The playbook contains several play ideas and activities that families can engage in to encourage development in one of the five key components of EQ: emotional self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation, and social skills. Emoji Bingo, for example, is a twist on the classic game that helps improve emotional self-awareness by teaching kids to recognize and label their emotions. By learning to recognize emotions, children learn to feel these emotions without getting overwhelmed by them, strengthening their self-regulation and overall emotional well-being.

Beneficial for all ages

To implement these tools and realize their benefits, parents are encouraged to play with their children whenever possible. Sharing in these moments helps strengthen the bond between you and your child while allowing you to better understand how they see the world. It also offers mental and emotional health benefits for you, too.

“Play provides an emotional outlet and helps reduce stress. That’s true for adults as well as kids,” Yudina said. “Studies point to the correlation between being a playful adult and having a lower perceived stress level and greater life satisfaction.”

Play even offers unique benefits in the workplace. According to a study conducted by The Genius of Play™, 79% of adults say that taking time to play helps them be more creative when trying to solve a problem at work.

With mental health struggles on the rise for people of all ages, play provides a safe and fun outlet for kids and adults alike to share laughter and positive emotions, promoting emotional wellness for the entire family.

To get your family playing in ways that boost their mental and emotional health, visit The Genius of Play™. You can download the Emotional Wellness Playbook for free along with hundreds of other activities and play ideas, as well as advice from leading child development experts.

To learn more, visit

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