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How play is crucial for developing a sense of identity

3 years ago

expert answer
Dr Amanda Gummer expert
Dr Amanda Gummer Psychologist: child development Kimpton, GB
Child development expert
When children are born they don’t distinguish themselves from their surroundings and it takes a few years before children realise that people can hold different opinions and act independently. This phase is described as a child having no ‘sense of self’.
As children mature, they develop a sense of self which progresses into a sense of identity that helps children navigate their way through the tricky adolescent period. Children who enter adolescence with a well-developed sense of identity are less likely to succumb to peer pressure and fall ‘off the rails’. The development of a sense of self emerges around the age of four but can be encouraged from infancy and starts with a secure attachment to a primary care-giver.
In early infancy, toys and activities that promote attachment are key, closely followed by games that promote copying and turn taking. As children reach toddlerhood, they can start to make their own fun, which contributes to their burgeoning sense of self as they start to develop their own preferences.
The freedom and autonomy of play allows children ‘to develop and demonstrate a sense of themselves’ (Jenkinson) and the social aspect of play promotes friendships and a sense of belonging that supports the developing sense of identity.
Play enables children to form friendships and attachments to adults and to places, allowing for the development of familiarity and intimacy with both, which all supports the development of a sense of identity. Playing in the local environment is a key factor in children’s well-being and also adds to their sense of belonging and identity, so playing in local parks and play spaces is a good way to encourage children to feel an attachment to their immediate environment and they’re more likely then to retain that identity even if they move away from the area in adulthood.
Empathy and imaginary play, eg dressing up, or small world play with miniature figures allow children to learn about the feelings of others and imagine themselves in different situations. This, in turn, facilitates the formation of mutually rewarding relationships and helps children feel part of a group, improves self-esteem and reduces children’s need for the external validation that is common in gang members.
Creative play gives children the chance to express themselves and create an identity for themselves through designing accessories and objects that can reflect their personality.
The vast array of toys and play activities on the market give parents a multitude of options on how to help children develop their sense of identity. Parents may not always like a ‘personality’ type that is being acted out, but they should try and let it run its course as children often push parental boundaries in their quest for their own identity. It’s beneficial for children to be able to try on different personas through play so that as they mature, they are able to develop their own unique identity.
The Good Toy Guide has a wealth of toys and play ideas to help children develop their sense of identity with advice for parents on this and other aspects of play and child development.

Do your children love imaginative play? Which toys seems to engage them the most?

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