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The Power of Play: Exploring the Social Benefits of Play in Childhood

As parents and teachers, we often witness the incredible ways children learn through play.

But did you know that play offers more than just entertainment? It is key to unlocking a world of social benefits that shape a child’s early development.

In this article, we delve into the importance of play in early childhood and explore the remarkable social benefits it brings.

From fostering communication skills to nurturing empathy and building lasting relationships, play is a vital component of a child’s growth and has a huge impact on social development.

Here are just a few of the social benefits of play, some of which are inspired by Marike de Witt’s book “The Young Child in Context: A Psycho-Social Perspective“.

Young girl giving little boy a hug. Text reads, "12 amazing social benefits of play."

Basic Social Skills

Play helps children develop crucial social skills such as cooperating, sharing, collaborating and taking turns.

Imagine a child building sandcastles with newfound friends at the beach or engaging in a social game like tag at the local park. These seemingly simple activities are opportunities for developing essential social skills.


Play gives children opportunities to see others’ perspectives.

During imaginative play, they learn to recognize and understand others’ feelings, show affection and develop empathy. They build emotional intelligence.

Young girl giving a little boy a hug

Whether playing house, caring for dolls, or taking turns in a game, they often step into someone else’s shoes, developing compassion and an understanding of others’ perspectives.

Resolving Conflicts

There are endless opportunities for dealing with challenges and differences of opinion during play.

As children make choices in their play and react to others’ choices and actions, they have to learn to resolve conflicts and move past them in order to continue building positive relationships.

Effective Communication

During pretend play children are able to experiment with new vocabulary, practise listening skills and learn how to express themselves effectively. They also learn to understand others.

Two girls laughing together outside on a picnic blanket.

The imaginative scenarios they find themselves in while role-playing teach them to communicate clearly and confidently, verbalizing their needs in a healthy way.

Practising Being Social

Children are not only learning social skills while playing with others but also during independent play.

While playing a game of “mom and baby” with their dolls, or playing shop in their pretend grocery store, they are able to practise the communication they witness in their family and environment.

Play gives them a safe environment to experiment with and practise interacting.

Building Relationships

Relationships with oneself and others are nurtured during play. Play allows children to bond, strengthen connections and foster a sense of belonging.

It is during play that children discover their “people” – those they naturally get along with, find common ground with, and are drawn to building relationships with.

They develop bonds that lay the foundation for lifelong friendships and a positive sense of self.

Healthy Friendships

Learning to form healthy friendships and romantic relationships is not as easy as it seems. Many adults struggle with this aspect of their lives.

Three girls posing for a picture

This is perhaps an area where adults can also provide valuable input and have discussions with children about what is and isn’t acceptable in their friendships.

Through play, children will form all kinds of friendships, some of which will not feel healthy. They can learn from these relationships too, if they are given guidance.

Social Norms

Part of living in any society requires fitting in, to a degree, with social norms. During play children act out the world and how they see people interact.

They learn how people in a certain culture greet, interact, eat, etc. They learn to develop prosocial behaviours and how to become part of their society.

There are also rules that govern society, and children start to learn these standards of what is okay and not okay as they play and act out scenes such as putting their friends into “jail”.

They also develop their own values that are important to them.


Learning to compromise is an important life skill. No friendship or relationship can thrive without constant compromise, as people differ in their needs and desires.

By spending time with others in play, children learn that in order to get along and have positive interactions, putting one’s own desires aside is sometimes necessary.

Drawing of boy sharing a sweet with a girl

This can be seen in situations like both children wanting to “be the mom” in the game and deciding to take turns, or coming up with a set of rules for the game that makes everyone happy.

Leading and Following

Interacting well with others requires a mix of being able to lead and follow. While people have different personalities and may tend to either lead or follow the majority of the time, it’s healthy to learn both skills.

Play gives children a platform to explore both these roles. They also learn that being overly assertive can lead to adverse reactions from their friends, but being too submissive can result in not realizing their own desires and not feeling seen and heard.

They need to learn in which situations it is more appropriate to follow and when it is okay to step up and lead others.

Roles and Personalities

Watch any play session and you are bound to see kids jumping into different roles and characters.

In an instant, they transform themselves into superheroes, doctors, parents, teachers and every other character that forms part of their lives.

This is how they learn about people and their roles in life and it’s a very healthy part of growing up and learning about the world.

Participating in a Group

There are many situations in life where one needs to function as part of a group. Play is the perfect first setting to learn this.

In order to play happily in a group, kids need to learn to collaborate, consider others’ opinions, compromise, contribute, lead or take a back seat, and share responsibility.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these examples of social development through play. As parents and educators, we need to recognize the importance of play in nurturing well-rounded individuals and ensure that enough time is dedicated to this invaluable aspect of childhood.

Are you a preschool teacher or working in Early Childhood Education? Would you like to receive regular emails with useful tips and play-based activity ideas to try with your children? Sign up for the newsletter!

Read more about the physical benefits of play, cognitive benefits of play and emotional benefits of play.

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