How playing can reduce anxiety in children




Research suggests that children can become anxious if they have too little time for free play. Barnett (1984) assessed children on their anxiety levels on their first day at nursery school. It was found that the children who were able to play freely had lower levels of anxiety than those who had to listen to stories. This supports the view that play allows children to work through their conflicts and anxiety.

The case of Dibs, a 5-year old boy who showed very disturbed behaviour shows the importance of play for dealing with issues (Axline, 1947). Dibs was referred to Axline, a clinical psychologist specialising in play therapy, for very disturbed behaviour. His parents thought he might be brain damaged. Axline watched Dibs’ play carefully to look for emotional reasons for his disturbed behaviour. Dibs often played with dolls that represented his family and in one instance, he buried a doll representing his father in the sand. This was interpreted as hostility towards his father. Axline was able to uncover Dibs’ conflicts and problems through the therapy. Dibs’ relationship with his parents improved as did his behaviour at school. Dibs IQ was tested after the therapy and he scored in the top 1% of the population. By then he had no emotional difficulties.

Sloan (1999) examined whether play therapy could be used to reduce aggressive behaviour in children in New York. The study found that play therapy is effective for reducing aggressive behaviour.


How can a parent use play at home to deal with anxiety?

Parents can use toy figures and role play to work through fears and other issues with their children. For example, if your child is worried about going to the doctors, you can role play doctors with them or encourage them to play doctors with their dolls or teddies. If your child is frightened of the dark, you can pretend that a toy figure is being put to bed in the dark and your child can talk about their fears. Another toy figure can be used to dispel fears. Any monsters or ghosts that turn up in the role play can be changed into something non-threatening. You can get your child to imagine what the toy figures/dolls would do if they were very brave (Jay et al., 1987).


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Want your child to read more? Read ‘The Fortress’, a fantasy  adventure story aimed at 7- to 10-year-olds.


What type of parent are you? Take the Quiz

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Find out what type of parent you are by taking the quiz.

  1. You go to parents’ evening and the teacher complains about your child’s behaviour. What do you do?

a) You ask the teacher what they’re doing wrong.

b) As soon as you get home, you shout at your child and take away TV privileges for a month

c) When you get home, you talk to your child about their behaviour, plan with them how to change it and take away TV privileges for the weekend.



2. The living room is a mess after your child has had their friend round. What do you do?

a) Tidy up yourself.

b) Shout at them and make them tidy up.

c) Ask them to tidy up with you helping.


3. Your child hits another child in the playground. What do you do?

a) Ignore it and let them sort it out themselves.

b) Shout at your child and drag them home immediately.

c) Make your child say sorry and take away a privilege when you get home.


4. You go to the toy shop to buy a birthday present for a friend’s child and your child says that they want one too. What would you do?

a) Buy it to keep the peace.

b) Lecture them about not expecting things every time you go shopping.

c) Tell them no but say that can save up for the toy with their pocket money or say they can put it on their birthday or Christmas list.


5. The main job of a parent is to do what?

a) Make your child feel happy.

b) Teach them to have manners and behave well.

c) Teach them to manage their emotions and make good choices.


If you chose mainly As, then you are a permissive parent.

If you chose mainly Bs, then you are an authoritarian parent.

If you chose mainly Cs, then you are an authoritative parent.

There are three main parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative and permissive.

Authoritarian parents expect their instructions and orders to be obeyed without question. They are more likely to punish their children for misdemeanours than other parents and offer fewer explanations. Children whose parents adopt an authoritarian approach are more likely to rebel or distance themselves from their parents as they grow older (Thomson et al. 2003).

Authoritative parents set clear boundaries for their children but are less likely to use punishment as a form of discipline. They are also more likely to use praise and rewards. They are responsive to their children but also have high expectations for behaviour. This type of parenting is related to children feeling a sense of responsibility for their actions and the children are less likely to rebel when they are older (Baumrind, 1971).

Permissive parents find it difficult to say no to their children and do not reprimand their children for inappropriate behaviour. Children of permissive parents are more likely to engage in risky behaviours that put themselves in danger and are more likely to take illegal drugs or drink heavily and behave badly a school (Lamborn et al., 1991). Therefore, it is important to strike a balance between being understanding and kind and setting clear boundaries.

The key characteristics of an effective parent are: warmth and involvement, clear communication of expectations, reasoning, allowing your child to voice their opinion and general pleasantness (Robinson et al., 1995). Some parents can be too controlling, critical, restrictive or punitive. At the other extreme, parents can be too relaxed and ignore their child’s misbehaviour (Robinson et al. 1995).

Research suggests that taking the middle ground in terms of discipline is best.

Want to get a free parenting ebook? Go to

Want your child to read more? Read the Fortress, a fantasy adventure story aimed at 7-10 year olds.





Talking to children about the EU Referendum

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My friend told me today that her son had been called a racist at school because he’d told his school friends that his father had voted leave in the EU referendum. Unbelievably, this is at a primary school. Perhaps we should be happy that primary school children are getting political but it is also worrying that children are expressing intolerant views to those who express a different opinion to what they believe.


At another local primary school, the mums have been arguing heatedly on Facebook about the EU referendum to the extent that it has got into a slanging match. In some ways it’s great that people are so involved in political debate but if it gets out of hand, children pick up on it. We all know children will repeat what their parents say.

It isn’t always easy to express strong feelings in a respectful way and that’s probably why they say you should never talk about politics with friends. However, when we talk about politics in front of our children, we should try to be respectful. If we are nasty about people that don’t share our views then children will think they can be like that too. Children need to learn to voice their differences of opinion in a pleasant way without being hurtful.

The EU referendum has sparked passionate differences of opinion and there has been a lot of scaremongering. Our children need to be reassured that whatever problems arise that they can be handled.

It is a good idea to talk about what different people think in a balanced way so that it doesn’t cause divisions.

Top tips for political discussion

  1. Be respectful
  2. Present a balanced view
  3. Encourage your children to do some research
  4. Talk about the importance of voting
  5. Be positive and reassuring


The Importance of Family Meals

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Most people say that they would love to eat together as a family every day but because of working hours it is not possible. We all have to deal with reality and if even one parent gets home from work late, it can be difficult to eat together.

family mealtime

I have also heard parents with young children say that although they know family meals are important that they just want to be able to eat dinner in peace without the constant demands of their children requesting things.

One way parents can compensate is for the family to eat together at weekends. It may also be possible to start having meals together during the week once the children are older as they eat later. Research shows that eating family meals with teenagers improves their wellbeing and decreases their risk of drug abuse, sexual intercourse and involvement in violent behaiours. For example, Eisenberg and colleagues (2004) showed that teenagers who frequently ate with their family, smoked less, drank less, had better grades at school and fewer symptoms of depression.

Once parents understand the significance of family meals, it becomes more of a priority. Eating meals together, can influence children to eat more fruit and vegetables. They are also less likely to drink fizzy soft drinks (Gillman et al., 2000).

If you don’t have a dinner table in your house, try not to give into the temptation of eating dinner in front of the television. Having the television on during meals can lead children to eat fewer fruit and vegetables and more snack foods (Patrick and Nicklas, 2003).

Parents can use mealtimes to catch up on their children’s day and to talk about what is happening in their lives. Family meals also allow parents to teach their children good communication skills and eating habits.

Five Guidelines for Family Mealtimes:


1) Be a good role model for your child by eating more fruit and vegetables.

2) Eat the same food as your child at mealtimes and have frequent meals together.

3) Do not watch TV at mealtimes.

4) Do not force your child to finish their meals if they are not hungry and give age-appropriate portions.


5) Give your child positive attention at mealtimes. Discuss your child’s day.



How can parents improve children’s behaviour?

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Do you want to improve your relationship with your child? One way is parent-child interaction therapy. There are two parts to the therapy. The first part is improving parent-child relationships through play and the second part is learning how to use commands effectively to improve behaviour.

parent and child playing

So how can parents adapt this for use at home? You can start by telling your child that they are going to have 30 minutes or an hour to play whatever they want with you. It is important to let your child take the lead rather than choosing the activities yourself. For example, try not to say ‘Let’s play with the trains next.’ Don’t direct your child and don’t ask too many questions such as ‘which animal is this?’ Instead, listen carefully to your child and reflect back what they say. For example, if your child says ‘I like to play with spiderman’, you can say ‘Spiderman is fun’. You can also copy your child’s play. For example, if your child is putting furniture in their doll’s house, you might say ‘I am putting furniture in the doll’s house, just like you.’ This teaches your child how to interact with other children and that you approve of their play. It is important for you to be enthusiastic so that your child feels you enjoy playing with them. Try to praise your child during the play time and avoid criticism. Only stop the play time if they become aggressive or destructive. Try to ignore other misbehaviours such as playing roughly or whining.


Once you have started playing with your child in this child-led way, you can start changing the way you give commands to them. Use direct commands with your child, rather than indirect. For example, you could say ‘please, put the lego in the box’ rather than ‘let’s tidy up.’ Tell your child what you want them to do, rather than what you don’t want them to do. For example, you can say ‘Please, sit here’ rather than ‘stop jumping on the sofa.’ Only give one instruction at a time and be specific. However, always give commands in a polite and respectful way and avoid shouting orders at them. Your child may try to delay obeying your commands by asking ‘why?’ but is better to save explanations until after they have obeyed your instruction (Bell and Eyberg, 2002).

Related Links:

The importance of family meals

How to deal with tantrums

Choosing a nursery

Teaching Children To Be Financially Savvy


pocket moeny

I was at the park the other day with my 6-year-old son. It was a sunny day and a perfect day for an icecream. My son asked me for an icecream but I hadn’t brought any money with me so I said no. A kind father of another child overheard my conversation and offered to buy the icecream for him. I refused his offer, not least because he was a stranger, and told him that I wanted my son to learn that he can’t always have what he wants. The man said, ‘Maybe that’s where I’m going wrong.’ Part of me agreed with him.

icecream van

I think it is important for my son to learn that he can’t have everything he wants all the time. Being able to delay gratification and having self-control has been found to have positive outcomes for children in terms of performance at school and relationships. Recently, I went to a village fete and I decided to give my son an allowance of £5 to spend on food, drinks and games. I told him that any money he had left over, he could save towards a Minecraft toy that he really wants. When we got to the fete, he was quite careful about what he spent his money on. He did buy a drink, some popcorn and played two games but he decided that he would save £3 of his money towards his toy. I felt that he had learned a lesson about not spending money frivolously.

On the other hand, I want my son to understand the value of money without him be overly worried about it. Sometimes, as parents we might avoid buying something for our children by saying that we can’t afford it. This can give children the impression that we don’t have enough money or we don’t have control over our finances. Children need to understand that there is a difference between things that we want and need. For example, if a child wants a new Minecraft toy for £100 but they already have a lot of Minecraft toys, you might talk to them about how long it would take to save that amount of money if they were working as a shop assistant with other bills to pay. As a parent, we can say to our children ‘I don’t choose to spend my money on things that we don’t need unless it’s a special occasion.’

Research suggests that the more open we are about our finances, the more financially savvy our children will be. Many parents shy away from talking about their family income or debt with their children as they don’t want this information to be shared with others. However, communicating with our children about these topics can be useful in the long-term. Perhaps once we feel our children are old enough to keep these details private, we should talk about them. What do you think?

Should I let my child cheat at boardgames?

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Between the ages of 4- and 5-years-old, children should be able to abide by the rules of a game but it is not until 6- to 8-years-old that they learn how to be good winners and losers. Therefore, parents need to handle playing games with young children carefully.


‘Should I let my 4-year-old daughter win when we play snakes and ladders?’

4-year-old children are able to understand and abide by the rules of a game such as snakes and ladders but they are going to have trouble losing. Therefore, there are different strategies that parents can use to keep games fun. One strategy is to offer your child an advantage such as being allowed to throw the dice twice rather than once or being allowed extra throws of the dice if you are ahead. Another way is to change sides or counters during the game every three moves. Alternatively, you can play until everyone gets to the end and everyone wins the game. As your child gets older, they will want to play by stricter rules to make the game more challenging but while they are young, it is a good idea to remove the competitive element of the game.

However, if your daughter tries to cheat during the game such as changing the number on the dice or moving their counter ahead, then stop the game as it is important that they learn not to cheat. Explain to her that cheating is not okay and that it stops the game being fun. You can reward your daughter with a sticker or some other kind of token at the end of the game for playing fairly.

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