Has the pandemic changed the way children play?

Since the first humans appeared in the world, the little ones of the species learned to play by enhancing their hands and imagination, and working as a team, and learning to share. It is not uncommon, therefore, to go to a museum and be surprised with the wonderful toys that children used from the Stone Age to Romanticism: dolls, weapons, baby strollers, and endless artifacts that often emulate the tools that adults use in daily life.

Toys have changed a lot over time, not only in terms of their manufacture or technology but also in relation to what interests children according to what time. In other words, social changes also make it possible for them to take an interest in one thing or another. And if there has been a particularly far-reaching social change in recent times, it has, of course, been the pandemic, which also hit the little ones in the days of confinement, forcing them to be locked up for a long period.

82% of parents said the pandemic had affected the way their children played

Has the way they played changed, therefore? It is not uncommon to think that they may have done so, as they have had to get used to hygiene measures, masks, and conversations about diseases, which has necessarily had to change their outlook on life, at least in relation to other generations. Psychologist Cara DiYanni explains in ‘Psychology Today’ how she decided to conduct a survey to clarify these doubts, concluding that COVID has definitely had a significant impact on children’s play.

In total, it surveyed 61 parents who reported 101 children aged between 2 and 12 years. 82% of parents said the pandemic had affected the way their children played. It is noteworthy to note that of all of them, 53% felt that COVID had had a negative impact on them, although approximately 59% also indicated that the time to play on the street before and after the pandemic had not changed much.

For better or worse, parents and children have become more time dependent on screen

And screen time? It’s a frequent problem. 68.9% (42 parents) admitted that their children spend more time on non-academic screen-based activities than before the pandemic, and 29.5% (18 parents) said screen time for their children is the same now as before the pandemic. According to the psychologist: “For better or worse, parents and children have become more dependent on screen time, perhaps as a substitute or as a way to socialize with friends and family whom they cannot see.”

And perhaps most fascinating about the survey: The psychologist asked parents to share the ways in which their children had incorporated the effects of the pandemic into their fantasy games. They reported several interesting anecdotes, for example, two parents of 3- and 4-year-olds reported that their children have pretended to inject themselves and others with vaccines “for the virus.” Another father of a 4-year-old girl testified that his daughter “plays the virus.” Similarly, two other parents of 2- and 4-year-olds also reported that their children play ‘doctors’ more often and incorporate characters who say they are “fed up with COVID” into their game.

Two parents of 3- and 4-year-olds reported that their children have pretended to inject themselves and others with vaccines “for the virus.”

In addition, some children had made masks for their stuffed animals, barbies, or pets, and many have incorporated social distancing, quarantine, or handwashing measures into their games, as well as “remote gatherings”. Several parents even reported that their children had begun drawing masks on their portraits.

Although the show was conducted with a group of Middle-class American families, it seems pretty clear that given the globalized nature of the pandemic, it has affected children’s play and that the long-term impacts remain to be seen. It is important to note that children often use play to communicate when they have no words. The social and emotional impacts of the pandemic are real.

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