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  • Writer's pictureDr. Luisa Bryce

Will COVID-19 Permanently Change How Kids Play?

Kids are affected in all kinds of ways by the Coronavirus. They can’t physically go to school, participate in sports and organized activities, see their friends, play on public playgrounds… the list is endless. Nonetheless, the current restrictions on where children are allowed to play won’t necessarily change how they play. Kids will continue to play pretend no matter what, but don’t be surprised if you see some coronavirus themes popping up.

Sorry friends, the park is closed

One of the things my 3-year-old daughter misses most since coronavirus is going to the park and playing on the playground. The other day, she asked me for Caution Tape so she could “close” her slide in the backyard. I didn’t happen to have any Caution Tape around the house, but I gave her some pink string instead. She proceeded to wrap the string around and around the slide until she was satisfied that the slide was “closed.” She then pulled a laundry basket full of stuffed animals up to the slide and said, “Sorry friends, the park is closed, but it’s okay. It will open again soon.” She replayed this exact scene five or six times before the slide finally opened again and she and her animals could play.

Play is the means by which children express themselves. While they may not have the language or social cognition to process emotions in an in-depth way through words, they can certainly act out their feelings in play. Through pretend play, children reenact real-life scenarios in order to ask questions, process events, and express worries and fears. During play, children get to be in charge; they can act out different solutions to a problem or change the outcome of an anxiety-provoking or scary event. In the case of my daughter, she was able to express and process her feelings (sadness, disappointment) through her play, while changing the current ending of a real-life event (our playgrounds are still closed).

Don’t be surprised or concerned if your kiddos start acting out coronavirus themes in their play. Acting out scenarios of feeling sick, going to the doctor, wearing a mask, and even death is okay. Just as you are processing coronavirus by talking with close friends and family, your children are processing the pandemic through play. However, if the content of the play becomes consistently morbid or violent, or if your children seem anxious or fearful while playing, you should pay close attention. Acting out the same event with a negative outcome over and over across the span of several days is also something to watch for.

Pretend play can provide great insight for parents on how their kids are feeling and is generally an age-appropriate method of expression. It should not be discouraged. However, if you are concerned about your children’s play, Harmony At Home can provide guidance on how to get help. Additionally, check out this CDC resource on how to talk to your child about coronavirus.

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