Play and health
When children play, they contribute to their wellbeing and to their own development.
Playing is central to all aspects of children’s health and wellbeing:
A well-established body of evidence shows the kinds of contribution play, particularly self-organised play, can make to children’s long-term and immediate wellbeing, physical health, mental health and resilience. Examples include:
- Play is crucial for good health and wellbeing: being active through play helps children physically and emotionally, contributing to their health and happiness.
- Play supports socialisation: when they play, children interact with others, develop friendships and attachments with their peers, deal with conflict, and learn respect and tolerance.
- Play builds resilience: playing enables children to cope with stress and challenges throughout their lives by boosting their: regulation of emotions, confidence, creativity, and problem-solving skills and perseverance.
- Play supports children to feel part of their neighbourhoods and wider communities: playing allows children to: learn about the world around them, make connections, and develop a sense of identity and belonging.
- Play supports learning and development: playing builds the structures of the brain and skills such as: creativity, problem-solving and critical thinking.
Play in hospitals and healthcare facilities
The wellbeing of children and teenagers who are patients in hospital or community settings such as children’s hospices can be supported by providing opportunities to play. Play and appropriate therapeutic play strategies should be embedded within the child’s care plan and included as a vital and routine part of a child’s admission.
Having access to play is particularly important when children face the uncertainties of serious illness, long-term conditions and hospital stays.
Research by Starlight Children’s Foundation has found that play:
- can help children have a more positive hospital experience
- is essential for improving the wellbeing of children, reducing the anxiety, fear and stress that can be associated with being in hospital
- can reduce children’s feeling of pain caused by hospital treatment
- can help children in hospitals build resilience that helps them to cope and engage better with treatment
- can help give back to children a sense of control and autonomy – this is often lost through illness and hospitalisation
- can strengthen family wellbeing and relationships.
A vital role within the teams working with children in healthcare is the Health Play Specialist (HPS). These are qualified, registered practitioners, dedicated to ensuring that children have appropriate access to time, space, and resources for play during their time in healthcare. Health Play Specialists also ensure that playful preparation and distraction is an integral part of children’s treatment.