Playful activities bring us great joy, with rough-and-tumble play being seen as the most fun of all. The play system is vital because it provides opportunities to learn and develop vital skills for survival when the world is safe, and for practicing with abundant variations and flexibility.
All mammalian youngsters discover within their minds “a wild, naughty, rambunctious creature”… spontaneous and mischievous. (Panksepp & Biven, 2012)
Activation and Expression
An activated PLAY system in children will be expressed in a huge variety of ways, corresponding to the vast amount of skills that our young need to learn and develop to survive in the world. Urges from the PLAY system cause the rough-and-tumble play involving tickling, pouncing, mock attacks, pins, wrestling, playful chasing, blocking, giggling, laughing as well as clear feedback about any accidental pain caused and responding appropriately to this. Of course, children play in a variety of other ways but this one is highly innate and very healthy, as well as sometimes discouraged by parents who don’t understand its rich importance. Touch is a sensory system that can get and keep play going, and so tickling is often the easiest way when we have appropriately boundaries in relationships.
Being unclear about the limits of play is a surefire way to stop play. If we don’t know the rules of the situation or the game – we don’t experience it as playful. Equally, when boundaries are crossed, rules are broken, our emotional experience shifts from playful, hopefully to assertive boundary setting, sometimes to aggrieved or angry. Once we know what the boundaries and limitations are, and we and others involved work within the rules and scope of the game – a confusing muddle turns into an opportunity for exploration, with both clarity and some uncertainty regarding expectations of the outcome.
The play urge is strong when the world is safe but it is easily blocked by danger, hunger etc. Blocking the PLAY system can lead to frustration, even RAGE activation, as expressed by young children when they just want to be left in peace to play.
Blocking the PLAY system can lead to a reduction in learning and development in children, reducing creativity and flexibility. “When children experience deficits in their ability to play, they often appear depressed and envious of other children. … Play deprivation may lead to frustrated adults with low mood… even reclusive adults who could be a menace to society”. (Panksepp & Biven, 2012)