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Does play promote self-regulation in children?

This theoretical paper discusses the role of pretend play and games with rules in fostering children’s self-regulation. It proposes several pathways through which play facilitates self-regulation processes. First, in play, children learn to inhibit their impulsive behaviour and follow rules which transform their behaviour from impulsive and spontaneous to mediated and voluntary. Second, play liberates children from situational constraints as children begin to act upon the meanings of objects as opposed to their immediate motivational valence. Third, children develop internal representations which guide their behaviour. Finally, play promotes verbal self-regulation as children are engaged in an ongoing dialogue with their partners in order to resolve differences in perspectives, to reach an agreement about roles, and to invent play rules. The paper further reviews empirical studies which explore the effect of play on inhibition, working memory, and private speech. The current status of play and implications for practice are discussed.