Children who play adventurously have better mental health, study finds

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  • A new study explored how playing adventurous games can improve children's health.
  • The researchers looked at children between the ages of five and 11.
  • Parents recorded the behaviours and moods of their children before and after the Covid pandemic.

A new study has found that children who are allowed to play in an adventurous way, in and out of school, may enjoy benefits in terms of mood and longer-term mental health.

The study published in Child Psychiatry and Human Development used two sets of data to examine associations between the time that children, aged five to 11 years, spent playing adventurously and their mental health.

The study was divided into two groups. The first group was made up of 427 parents living in Northern Ireland. The second group consisted of 1 919 British parents. Parents completed questions about their children's play, their general mental health pre-Covid and their mood during the first Covid-19 lockdown.

The researchers looked at factors such as total time spent playing outdoors, playing adventurously, and playing unadventurously. 

Playing adventurously included going for a torch walk in the dark, exploring woods alone or with a friend, camping out overnight, swimming, skateboarding, rollerskating, cycling and creating obstacle courses inside or outside.

Adventure better for overall health

The study found that children who typically played more adventurously were happier during the first Covid-19 lockdown than those who did not. Children who usually spent more time playing adventurously coped better with the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown and experienced more positive affect and less negative affect during this period.

The research also shows that children who did not play adventurous games had more signs of mental health problems, internalised anxiety, depression and phobias.

"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," said lead author Prof Helen Dodd in a press statement.

She continues: "This is really positive because play is free, instinctive and rewarding for children, available to everyone, and doesn't require special skills. 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."

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