PLAY | Q&A with Dr Paula Barrett

Share the joy

The Milo facebook page hosted Australian academic Dr Paula Barrett this afternoon for a live chat about playtime and how important it is for our kids.  The hour just flew by as eager mums were keen to chat with Paula who specializes in childhood anxiety and depression.

As it was at a tricky time for us here in NZ (3-4pm) I thought I would post a transcript of the Q&A below.  Enjoy!

I seem to recall from somewhere that physical play, ie play fighting, wrestling anything involving contact and personal boundaries is particularly important for young boys in many ways. Is this true?

It is true that many boys learn best through active play – they learn by doing things, more than through just verbal communication. It really helps them them to learn important life skills, such as how to relate with other children. They learn those skills because they’re engaged and happy when they are active. When they are play fighting, it is not aggressive play – it’s a way of learning what the boundaries are.

My daughter is almost 9yrs old & has anxiety issues. I try to provide her with craft activities & art supplies as creative means of processing her emotions & anxiety, but she ends up a screaming, angry mess when things don’t go to plan. I’d really appreciate some tips on helping her enjoy her play time & equip her with skills to manage the anxiety.

Anxious children tend to be perfectionistic – they don’t like doing things unless they are perfect & they worry about not being perfect. There are lots of strategies to manage anxiety, but the main thing is to try and encourage her to do things just for the fun of it. Create easy fun tasks outside (like playing with a ball) that are not competitive in nature and emphasise the fun of the activity. You can also visit and look up the ‘Friends Program’ where you’ll find more information on helping children with anxiety.

Boys need to be boys, as well as have good male role models especially a father (father figure).Would you say those lacking the father figures, boys, especially, lose out?

Positive male role models do play an important role in the development of both boys and girls. These male figures can include dads, granddads, brothers, uncles, sporting coaches just to name a few.

My daughter and son are 13 and 10. I encourage physical activity as much as possible, but as I am unwell they get frustrated that I can’t play too. I take them to the beach, but I can only watch from the sidelines. Is there something I can do as a fun outdoors reward that involves all of us, so they don’t just see mum sitting on the sidelines feeling miserable.

It’s wonderful that you take them to the beach and encourage them to play in outdoor settings – by being there you are already very invested in their well being. Other things you can do to get more involved is to be the goal keeper, time keeper or score keeper in one of their games. You could also invite your children’s friends to come along and become part of the activity.

My 4 yr old son isn’t the most athletic kid and while he loves playing at the park he tends to only last 5 min or so riding his bike or playing ball games, etc before he is bored and wants to go inside. How could I encourage him to want to play outdoor games and build his stamina???

It’s great that you’re encouraging outdoor active play! One ideas is to invite a few of his friends of the same age along to the play time – he’ll be inspired and encouraged by having his friends around to stay playing for longer. Another idea is to turn it into a regular activity that happens every day – as he gets more comfortable with the idea of staying outside for half an hour every day and playing, you’ll find that he will look forward to it and ask to do it more!

Playing outside comes pretty naturally to our 7yo boy, but EVERYTHING turns competitive, and some of his playmates are not as hard out as he. What can I do to encourage non-competitive behaviours when appropriate?

Games where there is no winner or loser, but where they share or learn, are great for encouraging non-competitive behaviour. One of the best ways to do this is to change the rules of a game so that they get points for cooperative, fun and happy behaviour, rather than scoring. Everyone is a winner and it encourages fun and learning.

What is the max time you think kids should spend playing video games/on the computer/watching TV every day?

For primary school kids my recommendation is no more than half an hour – and always remember to keep a balance between this time and active outdoor play. Definitely make sure you also get outside with your kids and go to the park, the beach or the bush and have fun!

My daughter suffers from this (anxiety), how do we deal with it when she has a I hate myself moment or an outburst moment?

Most children and adults have moments where they feel they can’t control their emotions – teach her to take deep breaths and give her a glass of water, then create small, simple games. Give her things she can do in small steps, and then she can build on these steps bit by bit – make sure you let her know that trying her best is good, she doesn’t have to be perfect.

  • I am participating in the Milo Play Movement as a Blogger Ambassador and any compensation received is for advice provided directly to the MILO Play Movement team on the social media engagement plan.
  • All communications I share regarding the MILO Play Movement are my honest opinion.