The Importance of Play for All ages


Summer is coming and if, like parents everywhere, you are busy planning your kids’ summer activities, be sure to allow for plenty of unstructured time. Experts agree that for children, adolescents and teens play is not merely idle time; it is necessary for healthy development. While you are playing with your kids you experience the same benefits as them. Play your summer away!

Play develops healthy brains.

Seventy percent of brain development occurs after birth up until the early 20s. Initially, play creates connections between the brain and nerve cells, which helps children develop gross motor skills (walking, running, jumping) and fine motor skills (writing, manipulating small tools, detailed hand work). Those connections continue to develop into adulthood, affecting the part of the brain responsible for planning and decision-making.

Play – particularly make believe – also develops the brain’s executive function, our ability to manage time and attention, to plan and organize, to remember details, to decide what is an appropriate response (incorporating self-control and discipline), to make sense of our emotions and to apply past experiences to the present. These are the skills that enable kids to do well in school, get along well with others, and make good decisions.

Imaginative play helps kids develop empathy and compassion. By trying on different roles, kids gain understanding of other perspectives. (Hartwell-Walker, 2015)

Play spurs creativity 

Adults often get stymied when asked to be creative. Our need to be right, to appear smart, and to avoid embarrassment or shame makes it extremely difficult to express ideas that aren’t fully formed and to try things outside our comfort zones. Children, on the other hand, don’t automatically have these constraints and are not limited by the thought that something is not possible. Play helps children maintain creative, innovative thinking into adulthood, not just in the arts, but in all aspects of work and life as well. (Hartwell-Walker, 2015)

Play is therapeutic

Play is a necessary opportunity for children to take control of their world. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA), without enough time devoted to free play, kids can begin to show symptoms of anxiety, including:

  • Avoiding other people
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nervousness
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Depression

Anyone who has ever tried to have a toddler in an adult situation, such as a fancy restaurant or an office setting, for any length of time has likely had a taste of this.   For children who have little or no playtime, the impact can be great. “It’s true that school work and schedules teach important life skills. But most experts agree that children’s health and everyday progress stand to suffer when scheduled activities leave no room for ‘free’ playtime,” the APA website reports.

Play is essential for both physical and emotional healing, says Amy Wortham, a child life specialist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Wortham explains that play allows children to feel “normal” at a time or in a place when their situation disrupts their regular life and makes them feel different from their peers. “Playing is the way that kids learn about their world. It helps them process and experience it on their own terms,” she says. (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2015)

Play can sometimes be frustrating for busy, tired parents, but because expressing oneself through play makes perfect sense to kids, play therapy is a useful tool for children dealing with complex emotional issues. At Carapace Counseling, we use play therapy to help children process anxiety, trauma (including abuse), anger, grief, and loss. Sand tray therapy, a form of play therapy we use, works well for adults, too.

Hartwell-Walker, M. (2015). The Benefits of Play. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 19, 2016, from
American Academy of Pediatrics (2015). Caution! Children at Play! Retrieved on on May 19, 2016, from


About Mariea Monday-Richardson, LMFT, CP, CCTP

Choose to have an amazing life! Life has a way of sneaking up on us. We get busy. We get in a routine. We function on autopilot much of the time. Fear and anxiety, trauma, transition, loss and addiction can put us on a path that takes us further and further away from our true selves. Until one day, we wake up and realize we are not where we wanted to be. Are you ready to take the path back to YOU? If so, I am ready to guide you. As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), I work with couples, families, individuals, and children of all ages to tackle a variety of problems. My services cover a wide range of individual psychological issues such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse; relational issues including marriage, child-parent relationships, and family issues; child neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD and attachment disorders; and recovery from trauma, including childhood trauma, physical and emotional abuse, and grief. I am pleased to offer Rapid Resolution Therapy® (RRT)*, a breakthrough treatment developed by Dr. Jon Connelly for overcoming trauma. RRT offers fast, long-lasting results. Unlike some traditional therapies, RRT does not require the client to re-experience the traumatic events, yet it allows him or her to resolve the pain of the trauma quickly and completely, often in just one session. RRT is used successfully to treat PTSD, sexual trauma, childhood abuse, anxiety, lack of sexual desire, sexual addiction, anger, fears and phobias, and nightmares and insomnia. I am a Certified Practitioner (CP) of Rapid Resolution Therapy and a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (CCTP). Change is rarely easy and often scary, but it is possible! You don't have to stay stuck or settle for an unworkable life. If you are ready to take-on the effort of growth and healing, let's move forward together. *Rapid Resolution Therapy® and Rapid Trauma Resolution® were founded and developed by, and are both trademarks of, Dr. Jon Connelly and are used under license. For more information, visit
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