Learning About Managing Your Child's Play and Activities

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Why is play important for children?

Most parents want to provide plenty of activities for their kids. They want their kids to explore new talents and find their interests. And with so many options to choose from, like sports and music, it's easy to feel pressure to fill your child's schedule with as many activities as you can. But having free time for play is important too.

During play, children learn to use their imagination and explore the world. They're able to try out new roles with other kids. They build social skills, like cooperation and problem solving. Playing helps children deal with their emotions and feel a sense of control.

Having some scheduled activity is important. But overscheduling can limit vital time your child needs for play and other important activities like schoolwork. It can also put stress on your child—and on you. So the key is to find a balance between scheduled activities and free time.

How can you balance your child's play and scheduled activities?

There are ways you can encourage play and avoid overscheduling your child. Here are some ideas.

  • Give your child regular downtime.

    Allow free time to read, play with toys, build, or play with other kids. Let your child be free to safely explore what they like and how they want to play.

  • Join in your child's make-believe play.

    Ask about what they're imagining, and play along.

  • Provide some old-fashioned toys.

    Traditional toys like wood blocks, board games, or dolls can encourage creativity and imagination.

  • Read to your child often.

    Ask your child about the stories and other things you're reading to them. This helps stimulate your child's imagination.

  • Limit screen time.

    Less screen time gives your child more time for active, imaginative play.

  • To avoid overscheduling, prioritize your child's activities.
    • What does your child most love to do? What are they good at? Be realistic about your child's talents and interests.
    • If an activity is less of an interest and your child has given it some time, think about dropping it from the schedule.
    • Check often with your child about how they feel about their activities.
    • Don't let scheduled activities get in the way of schoolwork.
  • Find what works best for your child.

    Some kids may focus on one or two activities they enjoy. Others may want to try lots of different things. Every child is different.

  • Be aware of your own stress level.

    If you're stressed by your child's activity schedule, your child may be stressed too. Consider talking to your child about dropping an activity they don't enjoy.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.