He marched down the corridor, head held high, with his own version of a soldier's helmet. A tub used for carrying around blocks was reincarnated as a red helmet with a plastic chin strap. How proud he looked as he marched in tempo to his own drum! This boy was out to win the war.

How do we feel when we see a child play soldier? We recoil as we think of the untold numbers of young boys killed on the battlefield.

As a result of our adult fears and experiences, we may try to steer our children into forms of play which we deem acceptable. "That tub is used for blocks, put it back;" or "I don't want to see you playing soldier again!" We project our feelings onto our children and, as a result, may limit the type or quantity of play in which they engage.

That is a mistake.

Play is crucial to children's development. As research at the University of Gloucestershire demonstrates, play "helps children to develop their range of responses to situations, experiences and relationships. By playing... children develop resilience and the ability to adapt."

When we limit our children's imaginary play we prevent them from exploring their full range of emotions. Indeed, the children's classic picture book and recent motion picture, Where the Wild Things Are, depicts some of the monsters that figuratively fill our children's brains. Should we censor these media because we - not our children - are afraid of them?

Similarly, when we limit the time given for spontaneous play because our children's days are filled with structured activities and technological bangs and whistles, we impinge on their ability to cope with common life stresses. Play gives them the opportunity of "being in and out of control." They become masters of their own universe in which they test out various strategies to conquer their enemies.

We as a society may have forgotten how to play. We have become so obsessed with external achievement, success, and recognition that we abandon the gems that can be found within. Children haven't yet lost that treasure. Don't bury it for them.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Mona Spiegel is a Licensed Psychologist and Life Coach. She provides life coaching to women who want assistance and guidance but do not need therapy. She focuses on parenting issues, relationship, communication skills and wellness for single and married women. Dr. Spiegel also speaks to women’s groups all over the country, on a variety of topics related to women’s development and family relations. She is a member of the International Coach Federation and the American Psychological Association. Visit her at http://myfamilycoach.com.