Play is as crucial for the adults as it is for young children

On what is easily the most colourful day of the year, some respected members of the society, discerning adults, serious students preparing for final exams and curious little children alike, had their nose plastered against their computer screens trying to “smell” a wet dog, vampires, a new car, and of course the indispensable olfactory delight, roses! This foolish enchantment with what technology can possibly achieve was fuelled ingeniously by the pranksters at Google. Once upon a humorous time in New York, a practical joke aficionado of the name Hugh Troy used an old-fashioned umbrella shaped like a rhino’s foot to create imprints in snow, causing the students, faculty and management of Cornell University to believe there was indeed a rhino in the campus!

Honking a horn every time your mother opens her mouth, sticking insulting signs on an unsuspecting (or a fully suspecting) friend’s back, punching holes in a sibling’s water bottle are just some of the countless other imaginative pranks that have been fundamentally designed to celebrate our childlike love for play.

Play has the very important purpose of dispelling tension. Practical jokes allow us to get in touch with our inane whims, which were indulged so much more when we were younger. In their ability to provoke spontaneous laughter, hoaxes and pranks (that are not dangerous or frightening) lower blood pressure and help one cope healthily with the demands of everyday life.

Many of you may have stopped playing routinely when you reached middle school. Students in older classes may still play competitive sports but it is adults who seem to have completely forgotten the simple pleasures of playing! It is an art that seems to be lost in the transition of a child into an adolescent and finally an adult. Play is crucial for improving one’s creativity and problem solving skills.

Play (preferably without serious competition) brings people closer as inhibitions are lowered causing one to become more open to the individuality and uniqueness of another person. The communicative value of play is an important reason why companies invest so much time and resources in team building exercises which are essentially games and group tasks designed upon the carefree principles of play.

The modality of “play therapy” is particularly designed to establish an unthreatening environment to children who have experienced trauma, suffer from psychological issues such as depression, anxiety or have learning difficulties. Play offers a medium of communication that a child is comfortable with while at the same time, encouraging the child to learn social, academic and emotional skills in an exploratory, undemanding setting.

Lay aside the cynicism and celebrate April Fool’s week with gusto. Play has a lot more to offer than simple fun. You will be the better for indulging your inner clown!

Sangeetha and Jyothi are clinical psychologists. You can write to them at chennaichild@gmail.com