Does your child play well with others?

Does your child play well with others?

There’s no doubt about the importance of peer play in children. But recent research suggests young children who play well with their peers tend to experience better mental health as they grow.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge, included nearly 1,700 children. Data was analyzed from each child at the age of 3 and then again at 7 years old. Parents and caregivers kept a record of how well each child played at the age of 3 in various situations, including during simple games, collaborative games like hide and seek, imaginative pretend play and goal-directed activities like building with blocks. The children who displayed a higher ability to successfully play with peers at age 3 consistently displayed fewer signs of mental health struggles at age 7. These findings held true even when researchers accounted for each child’s personal factors, such as poverty level, maternal distress and opportunities for play with parents and siblings.

The children who played well with peers tended to experience lower hyperactivity levels, fewer conduct and emotional problems at school and at home, and were less likely to fight with other children at age 7.

“I do believe peer play is important for the emotional development and growth of a child,” says Dr. Emma Olivera, a pediatrician with Advocate Children’s Medical Group. “But I think more information is needed to have definitive conclusions on this.”

Dr. Olivera points out that it can be tough for some families to provide opportunities for their young child to regularly interact with peers.

“Not all families can afford daycare or early school programs,” she says. “But free or low-cost local park district programs may be a way to engage children in peer play, especially if they are the only little one at home. At the end of the day, in this age of increasing technology use in our daily lives, children playing in person with each other on the playground, in school and at home continues to be the best way to stimulate learning.”

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.