Social-Emotional Benefits of Play

Night games, tag, and pretend are some of the spur-of-the-moment, impromptu games that the children in my neighborhood play. Whether they're riding bikes together or playing pretend and pushing baby dolls around in strollers, there are a ton of life skills these kiddos are developing and improving.... and they're having fun!

Play is where children naturally learn best and it's super important for social-emotional development.

What Social Skills Does Play Help Develop?

Some research-backed benefits of play are improved skills in the areas of:

  • Team Work
  • Negotiation
  • Self-Advocacy
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Sharing
  • Self-Regulation of Emotions
  • Theory of Mind

On paper, these skills may not seem like a big deal like.... you know, "soft skills" but social-emotional skills like these help your child to become socially competent.

Socially competent children are happier than their peers without social skills. As a mom, this is a huge selling point for me. I really, really, really want Baby Boy to be happy. I want him to have friends, confidence, and opportunities.

And research reveals what we know instinctively, that social skills are important for children's happiness. This is why I take social-emotional development so seriously with my preschoolers and actively encourage their play skills.

Let's look at some of the specific social-emotional skills that are developed during children's play.

Team Work & Conflict Resolution

When children successfully engage in cooperative play like playing pretend where there are agreed upon rules and roles, they have to use their team work skills.

As children improve their ability to work in teams, their ability to cooperate improves. Your child's ability and willingness to cooperative improves their self-esteem, communication, listening skills, creativity, and problem-solving. And these skills help your child to build up their ability to resolve conflict.


Guess what skills are correlated with the ability to negotiate? Confidence, self-esteem, ability to compromise, and empathy.

Theory of Mind

Theory of Mind is the ability to recognize others' perspectives and how this affects their behavior. It's essentially 'social understanding' and is a skill that significantly develops between the ages of 3-5.

Theory of Mind is the foundation your child needs to develop foundational social skills like good communication and interpersonal sensitivity. These fundamental social skills significantly increase your child's shot at popularity and peer acceptance.

Peer Acceptance and Social Skills

But why does your child really need acceptance from peers? Peer acceptance is so critical because when your child is acceptance by peers, your child is much more likely to have positive interactions and social experiences.

The more positive peer interactions your child has, the more opportunities your child has for improved social-emotional development. Essentially, you need social skills to get your foot in the door to develop better social skills.


This post has been pretty "academic" and has taken some genuine thought to put together. So thank you for sifting through all this information with me. A lot of this research came from my thesis project and is information that I've poured over for many, many hours. It's really important to me that what I write is actually research-based so that it can help kiddos like Baby Boy, my preschoolers, and your child. I hope that this is helpful for you!

After all the research I've read for social skills, the biggest take away that I have is that it's all interconnected and it's best to give children a lot of opportunities and different experiences to grow. Playing with peers, reading books together, seeing new things, taking the time to laugh and cuddle... these are the experiences that make childhood joyful and encourage children to develop the skills they need to be confident, socially competent individuals.

Here are some posts where I talk about strategies for play development:


Caprara G. V., Barbaranelli, C., Pastorelli, C., Bandura, A., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2000). Prosocial foundations of children’s academic achievement. Psychological Science, 11(4) 302-6.

Martin, D., Bat-Chava, Y., Lalwani, A., and Waltzman, S. B. (2011). Peer relationships of deaf children with cochlear implants: Predictors of peer entry and peer interaction success. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 16, 108-120. doi: 10.1093/deafed/enq037.

Slaughter, V., Imuta, K., Peterson, C. C., & Henry, J. D. (2015). Meta-analysis of theory of mind and peer popularity in the preschool and early school years. Child Development86(4), 1159-1174.

Thagard, E. K., Hilsmier, A. S., & Easterbrooks, S. R. (2011). Pragmatic language in deaf and hard of hearing students: Correlation with success in general education. American Annals Of The Deaf, 155(5), 526-534.

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