Effectiveness of an Arts-based Program in Enhancing Playfulness and Well-Being of Parents and Young

Enhancing Playfulness and Well-Being of Parents and Young Children

Play has long been recognized as an integral part of personality development for children. Playfulness, the capacity to play, refers to the personality trait characterized of cognitive, social, and physical spontaneity, which are the building blocks for psychological flexibility, joy, and sense of humor. Playful children are more intrinsically motivated, have better internal control, coping skills, and they are more creative in problem-solving as well as buffer against developmental psychopathology (Bundy, 1997; Christie & Johnsen, 1983; Lieberman, 1965; Saunders, Sayer, & Goodale, 1999; Trevlas, Matsouka, & Zachopoulou, 2003). Whereas, the inhibition in play is important diagnostic factor of children’s psychosocial development in adulthood. There is an imminent need for evidence-based practice that encourages the cultivation of playfulness for children that responses to their developmental needs.

The past decade saw the proliferation of arts-based intervention programs for young children in education setting; despite different art forms are used in these program, these arts-based modalities the different facets of play, such as physical play, play with objects, symbolic play, socio-dramatic play, and games with rules. The use of play in a therapeutic context maybe cathartic, expressive, or it may be a symbolic re-enactment of children’s internal world far beyond words can express (Youell, 2008). Despite the emerging popularity of the use of arts in children education, local studies to explore its potential benefits in improving psychosocial well-being of children has remained rare. This randomized controlled study is intended to fill such knowledge gap in the field.

In 2017-2018, the multidisciplinary team of Expressive Arts Therapist, Play therapist, Social Workers, and Educational Psychologists at the TWGHs Ho Yuk Ching Educational Psychology Service Centre has initiated a pioneer family support program aiming to enhance playfulness of children using creative arts. The result of this exploration is an innovative, integrative, and evidence-based family intervention model for the betterment of children’s psychosocial welling in Hong Kong. The professional-led program utilizes different art modalities, such as visual arts, dance/ movement, drama, story-telling, and play, to provide families a platform to build rapport, enhance parent-child relationship, and to cultivate playfulness for both the parents and the children. The major goal of the program is to foster playfulness and to integrate playful qualities into parent-child relationships, in which the participants learn and growth in a non-judging, and playful atmosphere.

The innovative, arts-based program takes the form of parent-child parallel group format, with 8 weekly sessions (90 minutes each) for the parents, and 6 co-joint sessions with the children (45 minutes) tailored by the multidisciplinary team at TWGHs Ho Yuk Ching Educational Psychology Service Centre. The Centre has partnered with the research team at the Centre on Behavioral Health, The University of Hong Kong to assess the potential effectiveness of such integrative, multi-modalities, family-oriented, creative arts program on improving parents’ perceived stress, affective states, playfulness, and parent-child interaction; as well as children’s playfulness and mental health risks.

Adopting a randomized controlled trial pre-post study design, utilizing both quantitative and qualitative method of inquiry, the effectiveness of the program was rigorously assessed by means of questionnaires and focus group interviews with participating parents as respondents. The research team has successfully surveyed 134 parents (NIntervention = 63; NControl = 71) in the quantitative survey, and 20 parents in the focus group interviews. Results of the evaluation study indicated that:

1. Quantitative survey results suggested that the integrative, multi-modal, arts-based family intervention program was effective in enhancing parents’ positive affect, non-judgmental attitude, and overall play attitude; while the program was also found effective in enhancing children’s prosocial behaviors, and cognitive. Results of the present study leaned support to the use of creative arts as an evidence-based practice fostering playfulness, and improving parent-child interactions.

2. Focus group interview results suggested that the program has enhanced parents’ awareness of the need of play in parent-child relationship, and the benefits of play as an attitude towards parentings. The interview also revealed that the intervention has been effective in cultivating acceptance, interpersonal connectedness, and a sense of empathetic understanding in parent-child relationships. The process of experiential learning and the mutually supportive environment of the group format are regarded as the building blocks for these potential gains acquired by the parents. The parents regarded the group-based, experiential learning process is enjoyable, insightful, and fun.

3. Exploratory analysis based on the quantitative data suggested the mutuality nature of parent-child playfulness. Our findings suggested that playful adults are more likely to report more positive affect, and thus yielding more playful children who showed more prosocial behaviors and reported few risks of mental health disorders.

To further contribute to the furtherance of the therapeutic use of creative arts in parent-child relationship enhancement in the field, the TWGHs Ho Yuk Ching Educational Psychology Service Centre and the Centre on Behavioral Health, The University of Hong Kong co-hosted a press conference at 11 am – 1 pm on 12 October 2019 (Saturday) at Auditorium, 1/F, Hong Kong Council of Social Services, Duke of Windsor Building, 15 Hennessy Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong to disseminate the results of the evaluation study and to introduce the innovative creative arts-based family support program to mental health professionals in the field.

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