Children who spend more time engaged in ‘risky’ adventurous play have fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, and this effect is more pronounced among children from lower income families, research has found.
The Guardian reported that the study set out to test theories that adventurous play – climbing trees, riding bikes, jumping from high surfaces, or playing out of adult sight – offers learning opportunities that help build resilience in children and protect mental health.
Researchers surveyed two samples of parents of children aged five to 11 – 427 parents in Northern Ireland and a nationally representative group of 1,919 parents in England, Wales and Scotland – and asked them about their child’s play, their mental health before the pandemic and their mood during the first Covid-19 lockdown.
They found small, significant associations between adventurous play and better mental health; specifically, children who spend more time playing adventurously had fewer internalising problems and more positive affect during the Covid-19 lockdown.
“We now urgently need to invest in and protect natural spaces, well-designed parks and adventure playgrounds, to support the mental health of our children.”
Helen Dodd, professor of child psychology at the University of Exeter
Helen Dodd said: “We’re more concerned than ever about children’s mental health, and our findings highlight that we might be able to help protect children’s mental health by ensuring they have plentiful opportunities for adventurous play. This is really positive because play is free, instinctive and rewarding for children, available to everyone, and doesn’t require special skills.