What Happens In Your Child's Brain When They Play?

What Happens In Your Child's Brain When They Play?
María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

If you had the chance to take a look at what happens inside your child’s brain every time they play, you would see a surge of activity. Although many parents don’t believe in the benefits of play, it is an incredibly complicated activity, which sets off hormonal responses within the brain.

Every time your child plays, a chemical commotion takes place in their brain, releasing endorphins and enkephalins. These substances are responsible for reducing neuronal tension, making children feel calm and happy.

This is also why our most creative moments come during play.

Look at it this way: play is the best activity, the best source of learning, training, challenge and fun in a child’s life.

The benefits of play for children are physical, mental and social. This happens because playing activates our brain chemistry and generates a series of hormones that go to work in our brains.

When your child plays, their brain is flooded with a substance called serotonin, which is responsible for balancing and regulating our mood.

This means that playing reduces stress and puts children in a good mood. This activity also releases acetylcholine, which promotes concentration, memory and learning.

At the same time, dopamine makes the child feel motivated to do physical activity, making their muscles react to the game. This substance also stimulates their imagination, helping them to create fantastical images and beings.

What Happens In Your Child's Brain When They Play?

Your child’s brain learns by playing

When a child plays, their brain learns to resolve conflict and develops the mechanisms necessary for the process of socialization. It is normally enough for two children to look and smile at each other: they’ll soon start playing.

Play has been proven beyond doubt to stimulate creativity in children. This is because, through play, they recreate and organize what they have learned.

Another benefit of play is learning to address disputes by creating and respecting rules, particularly when playing in a group.

Many young people are able to learn other languages through songs and games. This is another sign that it is through what we call “play” that children learn and develop best.

Studies have shown that the brain learns more easily when an activity is fun. This is why children often learn how to tidy their room, or even how to speak another language, through games that invite them to try new things.

As the Spanish Association of Pediatrics explains, play stimulates learning, curiosity and creativity in children, as well as helping them to develop psycho-motor skills.

When a child plays, they benefit from physical, emotional and intellectual gains. This is why pediatricians recommend teaching children new activities as a game, rather than a chore.

What Happens In Your Child's Brain When They Play?

Emotional benefits of play

Play is the most important subject on the curriculum for children. In particular, it relieves the pressure of school and the stress of homework.

Perhaps this is why Spanish psychologist and author Rosa Jove recommends that parents who want to raise their children respectfully always let them play.

Jove also invites us to understand that children, just like adults, suffer from stress. Letting them play will make things at home much more harmonious. When children play, the whole household benefits.

The author explains to parents that children aged six and over won’t spend more than two hours playing freely. This means that parents should respect their children’s leisure time.

Avoid making them take part in too many stressful activities. Don’t forget the benefits of play – for both adults and children – as the best form of learning.

Above all, play helps young children form social relationships at the same time as strengthening their inner world.

So you might be asking yourself: “What happens in a child’s brain when they play?” Magic! That’s the simplest answer.

Whether they play with dolls or with a ball, get lost in a game of hide and seek or in their own imaginary world, play helps children to learn, have fun, relax, dream, imagine and solve problems.

That’s why it’s so very important to let them play.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.