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Play and anxiety . . .

Challenges are typically preceded by feelings of anxiety. If anxious feelings are managed well, then anxiety can serve as a useful emotion because mastering age-appropriate anxiety and its accompanying challenges is an incentive for learning new skills.

Mastering age-appropriate anxiety is possible when a child’s abilities are put to the test without the child feeling overwhelmed by the challenge involved. The anxiety is a cue that nudges the child to find solutions for dealing with the discomfort of the anxious feelings. By doing so, the child transforms feelings of anxiety into feelings of pleasure tied to discovering something new.

Play is a key avenue for children to learn to handle anxious feelings. During play, a child feels safe to experiment and suspend rules and constraints of the real world; importantly, the child becomes the master at work. In play, a child becomes the active doer of what is going on around him or her. Play provides a way for a child to rewind prior events, and in the process of replaying a situation, temper the anxiety and fear over what happened.

A game of hide-and-seek allows a child to practice and strengthen his or her growing knowledge that parents and caregivers come back. The child is the one in charge, the one hidden from view, and the one who pops out into the open again.

If a parent catches the flu and is out of commission as parent for a few days, a child may play being doctor with his or her stuffed animals, or he or she may hold a doll with care while diagnosing what is wrong before announcing to the doll, “You are all better now.”

Parents can help children play out their feelings of anxiety about a specific situation by giving them permission and the time and space to do so. This arrangement means that the children are in charge of the play. Children will have their own agenda about what needs to be solved as they spontaneously play it out.

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March 29, 2017 This post was written by Categories: Parenting Playbook Tagged with:
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