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Thursday, 29 July 2021

Children are people today

Posted in Blog

As I write, I can hear my neighbour’s twin girls playing in their garden. The sound is musical, the incessant chatter, squeals and laughter could be the silvery tinkle of a mountain stream on a sunny day.

Frankie Campbell - Head of safeguarding (children) SWLStG. July 2021 

As I write, I can hear my neighbour’s twin girls playing in their garden. The sound is musical, the incessant chatter, squeals and laughter could be the silvery tinkle of a mountain stream on a sunny day.

Play is just what children do, whenever we allow them.Summer of Play

Children fill in the spaces in their busy lives with play and play always makes life better.

Covid-19  has brought change and sacrifice to our children’s lives, and they lost freedom and opportunities for social  and outdoor play in an unprecedented way.

Culturally, we recognise that play is how children learn and explore, and we often compare and contrast play with the idea of work. Play is understood both as the opposite of work for adults, but also as significant and meaningful as work for children.

However, we now understand that play and mental wellbeing are entwined. Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist who studied the evolution of emotion, stated that the opposite of play is not work, it is depression. Panksepp said that the social joy of play in childhood is the basis of lifelong happiness and mental health. Dr Wendy Russell who researches play, says that play buffers children’s anxiety, helps develop their self awareness and ability to control their emotions and thoughts, and builds empathy.

Despite this, many spaces are actively hostile to children’s play. From ‘No Ball Games’ signs, to shopping centres seeking to exclude young people, to speeding cars, to perceptions that any group of young people is a dangerous criminal gang, children’s play opportunities have been systematically reduced. Children today have so much less freedom than I remember as a child able to roam free in the 1970s. We did some silly, naughty things, but we had a lot of fun. (Has anyone under 40 ever played Knock Down Ginger?)

This ongoing developing societal hostility to children’s play has been compounded by the pandemic. The biggest loss during Covid-19 for many children has been the loss of time with friends, time to mess around, time for chatter and games and laughter and playacting and silliness.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the United Nations in 1989, which acknowledges the right to play,  drew on the work of Janusz Korczak, a Polish paediatrician  and principal of a Jewish orphanage, who refused to leave the orphans and died together with them in the Treblinka extermination camp. Korczak wrote of the child’s right to respect, saying “Children are not people of tomorrow; they are people today." Two-thirds of primary children told the Children’s Commissioner they felt lonely during lockdown.

It’s time to reclaim those lost play hours for this generation. My neighbours and I are planning a Children’s Play Day in September. We have permission to close the road for the day, we will block those ratrunning cars with our bins, and let the children rule the street! I can’t wait!

What should we be doing as a mental health Trust to ensure that we put children first and prioritise play?