They act out their feelings, explore new ones and relate to the feelings of others during pretend play. They process and act on feelings of sadness, fear, empathy, love and anger, all while creating their own dialogs and stories. Play gives children a safe space to process emotions and understand that particular emotions are normal to feel. It makes them more comfortable within themselves and creates emotional resilience.
This elaborate world they create in play brings them joy and decompression, but also serves the purpose of processing and regulating all sorts of feelings in their active, emotional worlds.
Playtime is a huge stress reliever and mood enhancer, much like how exercise is. When a child is having fun while immersed in their elaborate story, they will feel good about themselves. These positive feelings extend beyond just playtime, and can enhance a child’s mood for the remainder of the day.
Children create plots inspired by their emotional states. They learn how to cope with these unchartered feelings and how to regulate them. If a child is feeling anger and frustration after a rough day at school, their pretend world will likely include characters who are displaying the same qualities. They may act out exactly what made them so angry, which let them feel, process, then let go. Regardless of the child’s make-believe scenario, they learn how to regulate these negative feelings through a safe outlet. When a child channels their anger into playtime, they reduce potential aggression, while still being able to let out their emotions. Play is a healthy route to channel all negative emotions into – and positive emotions too.
When browsing for toys that enhance emotional development, intentionally shop for a variety. It is important to give children toys that elicit different types of play, therefore, eliciting different emotions. For example, a child may want to be sweet and cuddly with a particular stuffed animal and then fearlessly running around with another. Provide them with different, open ended characters that hold potential for diverse play scenarios.