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With the long summer holidays shortly upon us I thought it might be a good time to have a look at the importance of play. Play is essential for children of all ages.

Through play, children learn skills and to develop as individuals and also as members of society. Research has shown that children need free play as well as constructed play and to play with other children as well as by themselves and with adults. Playing builds comradeship, co-operation and respect. It is also an excellent medium for swapping little details of our lives, showing our personality, and building bonds and bridges – between children and between adults and children. Siblings (including foster siblings) of similar ages can be encouraged to play together but not forced to. There are few siblings who play together all the time regardless of how close they are. Even identical twins need to do their own thing sometimes and have their own space to allow their personalities to flourish.

Role playing is good for bonding and is also great fun. Playing shops, for example, is an old and enduring favourite, where the child, sibling and adult take turns to be the shopkeeper. Play food and plastic money can be used, or tins and packets from the kitchen with coppers from your purse.

Board games are great for teaching co-operation and fairness, but they also have the potential to degenerate into argument, particularly if a child is very competitive and needs to win. Teaching a child that it is not the winning of the game but the playing that is fun is essential and can be achieved largely by example. The maxim - When you win, say nothing, and when you lose, say even less is the perfect ideology for playing games together. If a particular game has the habit of degenerating into argument then put it away and get it out again only on the understanding that everyone plays nicely. Our game of Monopoly regularly takes time out. I don’t know what it is about Monopoly as it is a great game for all the family, but it also has the potential for escalating competitiveness, resulting in accusations of cheating from even the most placid of children.

Play therapists advise that we shouldn’t allow or condone cheating when playing competitive games. Cheating is a form of lying and undermines the whole concept of playing games, as well as sanctioning deception. Playing fairly and taking turns is important for a child’s behavioural development, and in forming relationships with others, so don’t ignore or dismiss or what might seem trivial. We all have to learn how to win and lose and play by the rules of life, and these rules are put in place through play in childhood. I hope you have a lovely summer holidays.

Cathy Glass (