Studies have shown that playing with pre-school friends reduces the risk of developing mental health problems


Cambridge: New research shows that children who learn to play well with others at an early age have better mental health as adults.
The findings were published in the journal Child Psychiatry and Human Development.
Researchers at Cambridge University Data from about 1,700 children were analyzed, collected when they were three and seven years old. People who were able to play well at the age of three showed fewer signs of persistent poor mental health after four years. They had less hyperactivity, parents and teachers reported fewer emotional problems, and they were less likely to have fights or disagreements with other children.
Importantly, this association was generally true even when researchers focused on subgroups of children at particular risk of mental health problems. This also applies when they consider other risk factors for mental health – such as the level of poverty, or cases in which the mother has experienced severe psychological distress during or immediately after pregnancy.
The findings suggest that giving young children who are susceptible to mental health problems access to well-supported opportunities to play with peers – for example, in a playgroup run by experts in the early years – could be a way to significantly benefit their long-term mental health. .
Dr. Jenny GibsonFrom the Play in Education, Development and Learning (PEDAL) Center Faculty of EducationThe University of Cambridge said: “We believe this connection exists because by playing with others, children gain the skills to form strong friendships as they get older and start school. If they have poor mental health Even if there is a risk, those friendship networks often pass them by. ”
Vicky Yiran Zhao, a PhD student at PEDAL and the first author of the study, added: “What matters is quality rather than quantity of peer play. Games with peers that encourage children to collaborate, for example, or activities that encourage. Positive knock-on from sharing. There will be benefits. ”
The researchers used data from 1,676 children Growing In the above Australia The study, which looked at the development of children born between March 2003 and February 2004 in Australia. It includes records provided by parents and caregivers, showing how well children played in a variety of situations at the age of three. It covers various types of peer play, including casual games; Imaginative hypocritical drama; Goal-oriented activities (such as building towers out of blocks); And collaborative games such as hide and seek.
These four peer play indicators were used to measure the ‘peer play ability’ – the child’s innate ability to engage with peers in a playful way. The researchers calculated the strength of the relationship between those measurements and reported symptoms of potential mental health problems – hyperactivity, behavioral, emotional and peer problems at age seven.
The study then analyzed two subgroups of children in the overall group. These were children with high ‘reactivity’ (children who were very easily upset and found it difficult to calm down in childhood), and children with low ‘perseverance’ (children who struggled for perseverance when faced with a challenging task). Both of these symptoms are associated with poor mental health outcomes.
Throughout the dataset, children with high peer play ability scores by the age of three had consistently seen fewer signs of mental health problems by the age of seven. For each unit increase in peer play capacity at age three, measured scores of children at age seven for hyperactivity problems decreased by 8.4 percent, behavioral problems by 8 percent, emotional problems by 9.8 percent, and peer problems by 14 percent. This applies regardless of the potential complication factors such as the level of poverty and maternal distress and whether they have ample opportunities to play with siblings and parents.
The effect was also evident in risk groups. Specifically, of the 270 children in the ‘low persistence’ category, who were better at playing with peers at the age of three, had consistently low hyperactivity and less emotional and peer problems at age seven. This may be because peer play often forces children to solve problems and face unforeseen challenges, and therefore addresses less patience directly.
The benefits of peer play for the sub-group with high reactivity were weak, probably because such children are often restless and withdrawn, and less prone to play with others. Even in this group, however, better peer play at age three was associated with less hyperactivity at age seven.
The coherent link between peer play and mental health probably exists because playing with others supports the development of emotional self-control and socio-cognitive skills, such as the ability to understand and respond to other people’s feelings. This is fundamental to building a stable, reciprocal friendship.
There is already good evidence that the better a person’s social connections, the better their mental health. For children, more social connections also create a virtuous cycle, as it usually leads to more opportunities for peer play.
Researchers suggest that assessing children’s access to peer play at an early age could be used for screening for people at risk of future mental health problems. They also argue that allowing the families of at-risk children into an environment that promotes high-quality peer play, such as playgroup or small-group care with professional child minders, is an easily accessible and low-cost way to reduce these opportunities. May be. Mental health problems later.
“At the moment the standard offer is to put parents on a parenting course,” Gibbs said. “We can focus more on giving children better opportunities to meet and play with their peers. The country already has a wonderful initiative, run by professionals who provide exactly that service to a very high standard. Our findings show That is how crucial it is. Their role is specifically given that other risk factors that put children’s mental health at risk can often be in circumstances beyond their parents’ control. ”

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