Play: The Antidote to Childhood Stress

At the very time when children need a release from their unfortunate circumstances, our Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota needs to keep its distance. 

During this extraordinary time, kids are experiencing stress from all sides. The Covid-19 pandemic alone resulted in children being pulled from their classrooms virtually overnight and forced to stay inside. They don’t get to see their grandparents, extended family, and certainly their friends.

The mainstay of school-aged kids was a day full of activities and friends. School was a place where they could socialize, play, and interact with lots of other children. They honed their communication skills and improved their ability to collaborate and work as a team.

Now, they are likely to be unable to even go next door to play with neighborhood friends.

Long and Short-Term Effects

The effects are frightening. Dr. Jenny Redesky, Associate Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, wrote in an April 24, 2020 article: “COVID-19-related school closures have affected over 1.5 billion children around the world. Concern has been raised about adverse mental health consequences of social isolation, lack of access to usual therapies and activities, and family stress related to finances and illness.”

In her May 28 Philadelphia Tribune article, Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez notes, “For many children, the first signs of anxiety and depression manifest as vague symptoms: a mild headache that won’t go away, outbursts of anger, acting out, an inability to focus in school, etc. In the midst of a global pandemic with a rising death toll, these vague symptoms, experienced by children without the ability to verbalize or advocate for themselves, can be easily overlooked in the country’s response. But to overlook the mental health of children and teens would have devastating consequences for years to come.”

The Power of Play

Play is a powerful antidote to these detrimental effects of the pandemic. In a recent interview with the Canadian publication Global News, Deborah MacNamara, author of Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one) defined play as a “salve for all of this upheaval.” She notes, “What play does is it carries you through hard times, because you don’t have to look at it directly and yet it provides the emotional release that we need.” Furthermore, MacNamara declares that, “Play is the safest place for relationships, for your consciousness, for your emotional system to not be overloaded and so it’s a perfect respite, but it will be the one thing that gets overlooked in a time of great stress.”

What Caregivers Can Do

There are many tactics parents and caregivers can use to offset the effects of the stress children face. Simply being present has a huge positive impact on a child’s wellbeing. Listen to them, talk to them, hold them, and comfort them. Find ways to be active every day. Read stories, and encourage kids to tell their own.

Time Spent Playing with Children is Never Wasted_Childrens Museum of Southern Minnesota

Perhaps most importantly, play with your children. Build a blanket fort in the living room, go on a nature walk, and play a board game. The possibilities are endless! Need more ideas? We have you covered with our CMSMatHome play prompts, or head on over to Pinterest where you’ll find no shortage of activity ideas for kids!

Looking Ahead

Undoubtedly, CMSM is one of the safest places in our region for children and families to commune, play, and relax. When our Museum reopens, we will make sure it remains a special place to come and play, leaving the external world behind. Weaving in many protective measures to offer a safe environment will be one of the priorities. However, most importantly, we will allow for some normalcy to return to children’s everyday play experience.

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