British Columbia

Let them be bored: The value of free play for kids

A little bit of rough and tumble play can go a long way for a child's early development — but parents have to be willing to let their kids off the leash, says author and pshycologist Dr. Vanessa Lapointe

'Beautiful things happen when they're bored,' says psychologist and author Dr. Vanessa Lapointe

Psychologist Dr. Vanessa Lapointe says letting children play without interference from parents and technology can have great benefits to their early social development. (Shutterstock)

A little bit of unstructured play between children can do a lot for their early development, according to psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Vanessa Lapointe.

Lapointe studies the effects of playtime on early childhood development.

She says making time for kids to play without interference from their parents or the distractions of digital technology can be beneficial for their development.

"The idea of free play that is scripted only by the child's focus and interest is a beautiful thing," she told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's BC Almanac.

"It allows children to have a relationship with the world around them, but also enables them to wander around in that world and understand it from so many different perspectives."

By making playtime open-ended, children are able to express their creativity and interpret their world uniquely — things that Lapointe says can get lost in the digital age.

"When children engage in the world of play, their whole selves, their minds, their bodies, their language development [and] their social development become awakened. They're able to kind of explore in a way they can make sense of."

Lapointe says rough and tumble play can be essential to letting kids learn certain social cues. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Rough and tumble

One example the author highlights is rough and tumble play — when playtime gets physical between children.

Parents can get a little concerned when they see their kids wrestling, but Lapointe says it actually teaches them how to understand certain social cues — in this case, calling it quits when they notice the tussle has gone too far.

"Children learn the capacity for self-control, for impulse management, for regulation by engaging with their world in a certain kind of way.

"As you get kind of worked up in a play situation with a peer and then have to look for those cues and navigate the social give-and-take, and then figure out how to back out of that, your brain gets repeated practice from being worked up and knowing how to calm down."

A few tips

Lapointe says a little bit of unstructured play can go a long way, but it's also important for parents to put in a little one-on-one playtime with their wee ones.

"If you can really just think about aiming for 10 to 15 minutes of uninterrupted, direct playtime with your children every day, that's a great place to start. Don't feel like it needs to be four to five hours, and you need to overwhelm yourself."

Lapointe says don't worry if your kid is bored — beautiful things happen when they're bored. (Instagram)

She also says children should not be looking at any screens until after the age of two. From then on, she suggests keeping screen-time to under an hour a day until they're six years old.

And don't worry if they're bored, either.

"It's OK for your kids to be bored — beautiful things happen when they're bored."

With files from CBC's BC Almanac

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Let the kids be kids! The value of unobstructed playtime, according to psychologist