When Play Becomes Therapy - October Health

October Blog posted in Press

When play becomes therapy

While there have been many articles in the news that speak to the mental health burden caused by load shedding and other stressful events that are a reality for South Africans, not much has been said about what children might be going through. 

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Continuing blackouts have kept South Africans in the dark for over a quarter of each day so far in 2023. Add to this the fact that violent crimes are on the rise, with the total number of contact crimes climbing 11.6% between the third quarter of 2021 and the third quarter of 2022.

“Events like load shedding, crime, violence, and corruption can negatively impact the mental health of both children and parents,” says registered counsellor, Luthando Magadla, adding that children are also heavily affected by the negative sentiments related to these events that they hear from their parents and other adults in their lives. 

“Parents need to be mindful of their language and behaviours around their children, especially when discussing traumatic or challenging events. Without thinking, we may be inadvertently exposing children to trauma through inappropriate language and graphic or frightening details, and unknowingly causing them stress and anxiety,” he adds. 

It’s also important to create a safe and supportive environment for children to express their emotions and experiences, adds Magadla, and one of the best ways to do this is through play. Magadla, who hosted a Forest session on the Panda app on the importance of play, says this simple, instinctive act can make a big impact.

“Play is crucial to children's social, emotional, and cognitive growth. It promotes problem-solving skills, enhances imagination, develops communication, and improves self-esteem,” he says. “Physical activity such as dancing or playing catch, board games, and even imaginative play.”

Play is just as beneficial for stressed out adults, says Magadla. “Parents can also use play as a way of reconnecting with their inner child, releasing tension, and promoting happiness. Engaging in play activities can help parents feel more energised, refreshed, and better equipped to manage daily stressors.”

According to the 2022 LEGO® Play Well Study, play provides clear benefits for the entire family, such as creating stronger family bonds (95%), improving family wellbeing (95%), making families feel happier (95%), and helping people relax together as a family (94%). But one in three parents admit that they don’t play with their children as much as they should, while 84% of children said they wished their parents would spend more time playing with them. 

Magadla advises busy parents who find it difficult to spare extra time in the day for play to try incorporate play into daily activities, like cooking or cleaning, making these fun and engaging experiences by getting the kids involved, allowing them to get messy and even help with tidying up in the process. 

“This one-on-one time with a child is invaluable, particularly in the volatile climate South Africans find themselves in today,” says clinical psychologist and chief clinical officer, Zamo Mbele. “Through these interactions, parents are able to pick up on issues that may be bothering a child, and the child in turn is more likely to feel safe and comfortable enough to open to up to the parent.”

“Creating these spaces of safety for a child early on is incredibly important to not only build strong parent-child relationships, but also support children in navigating events that may cause stress and even trauma, that are not always in anyone’s control,” concludes Mbele. 

29 May - 5 June is Child Protection Week which is an essential annual initiative that raises awareness about the importance of safeguarding children's well-being and ensuring their safety both at home and in educational institutions.

During the campaign, we will be organising a series of engaging and insightful sessions discussing various aspects of child protection. Some key topics that will be covered include:

How to protect and support children through child welfare services with social worker Phumudzo Sadiki from Department of Social development - Add to calendar

  • How to protect and support children through child welfare services with social worker Phumudzo Sadiki from Department of Social development - Add to calendar
  • Making blended families work & prioritizing the children with inspirational speaker Lynn Forbes and clinical psychologist Zamo Mbele - Add to calendar
  • Empowering children as advocates of their own rights with educational psychologist Safiya Bobat - Add to calendar
  • Recognising and preventing child abuse and child exploitation with project manager Patiance Zhou & project officer Cassandra Lebea from Save the Children South Africa - Add to calendar
  • Positive discipline with researcher Moyahabo Thoka from Centre for Child Law - Add to calendar
  • Protecting children: Nurturing mental health and addressing medication concerns with child psychiatrist Dr. Francois Esterhuizen - Add to calendar
  • Addressing anxiety and stress in children with medical doctor Samke Ngcobo - Add to calendar
  • The impact of malnutrition on child health and wellbeing with paediatrician Dr. Keketso Mopeli-Tshehla - Add to calendar
  • Nurturing inclusivity: Parenting and teaching LGBTQIA+ children with love and acceptance with master’s psychology student Bianca Cassell - Add to calendar

Join us in the Forest; together we can create a safe space where children can heal, grow, and thrive amidst the challenges they face.

Posted by Khwezi Mabunda


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