who spend more time playing adventurously have lower symptoms of
anxiety and depression, and were happier over the first COVID-19
lockdown, according to new research.
A study led by the University of Exeter asked parents how often their children engaged in play that was "thrilling and exciting", where they might experience some fear and uncertainty.
The study, published in Child Psychiatry & Human Development,
comes at a time when today's children have fewer opportunities for
adventurous play out of sight of adults, such as climbing trees, riding
bikes, jumping from high surfaces or playing somewhere where they are
out of adult sight. The study sought to test theories that adventurous
play offers learning opportunities that help build resilience in
children, thereby helping to prevent mental health problems.
research team surveyed nearly 2,500 parents of children aged 5-11
years. Parents completed questions about their child's play, their
general mental health (pre-COVID) and their mood during the first
research was carried out with two groups of parents: a group of 427
parents living in Northern Ireland and a nationally representative group
of 1919 parents living in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland).
found that children who spend more time playing outside had fewer
"internalizing problems"—characterized as anxiety and depression. Those
children were also more positive during the first lockdown.
effects were relatively small, as would be expected given the range of
factors that affect children's mental health. However, results were
consistent even after researchers factored in a wide range of
demographic variables including child sex, age, parent employment status
etc. and parent mental health. The study in the Great Britain group
also found that the effect was more pronounced in children from lower
income families than those growing up in higher income households.
Dodd, Professor of Child Psychology at the of the University of Exeter,
who led the study, says that "we're more concerned than ever about
children's mental health, and our findings highlight that we might be
able to help protect children's mental health by ensuring they have
plentiful opportunities for adventurous play. This is really positive
because play is free, instinctive and rewarding for children, available
to everyone, and doesn't require special skills. We now urgently need to
invest in and protect natural spaces, well-designed parks and adventure
playgrounds, to support the mental health of our children."
Paskins, Director of UK Impact at Save the Children, says that "every
child needs and deserves opportunities to play. This important research
shows that this is even more vital to help children thrive after all
they have missed out on during the COVID-19 restrictions. More play
means more happiness and less anxiety and depression. That's why Save
the Children is supporting the Summer of Play campaign which brings
together organizations from around the country to pledge their support
to enable children to have fun, spend time with friends and enjoy
the findings, Jacqueline O'Loughlin, Chief Executive of PlayBoard NI
says that "this research emphasizes the importance of adventurous play.
Children and young people need
freedom and opportunities to encounter challenge and risk in their
everyday playful adventures. It is clear from the research findings that
playing, taking risks and experiencing excitement outdoors makes a
positive contribution to children's mental health and
emotional well-being. The rewards of allowing children to self-regulate
and manage challenge in their play are widespread and far-reaching.
Adventurous play helps children to build the resilience needed to cope
with, and manage stress in challenging circumstances."
More information: Helen F. Dodd et al, Child's Play: Examining the Association Between Time Spent Playing and Child Mental Health, Child Psychiatry & Human Development (2022). DOI: 10.1007/s10578-022-01363-2