Adults can easily forget that kids learn a lot through physical play. Physical play might involve roughhousing, wrestling, climbing, swinging, and running around. All children need this kind of play, and participating in it is one of the ways kids can learn to solve problems.
Take self-soothing as an example. When children have a hard time calming down, parents and caregivers most often avoid additional roughhousing with them, reasoning that would simply escalate the situation to a frenzy, leaving no chance for tranquility. However, children need to go a little wild to practice calming down. Trying to teach your child how to calm down by sitting on the sofa for a chat probably won’t get the job done, but by taking the time to wrestle and roughhouse a bit, parents or caring adults have an opportunity to teach children how to wind down. Taking deep breaths is one way. Children can learn to take deep breaths rather than quick, shallow breaths, and they can learn to let an exhale take twice as long as an inhale. Blowing bubbles is a playful way to help kids learn how to do this. Making a fun game out of blowing the biggest bubbles—which require deep, slow breaths—is one engaging way to teach deep breathing. This way, when parents say “It’s time to calm down,” fun, connection, and learning can remain a part of the plan.
Paying attention is another example. When a child has a hard time focusing, parents can feel frustrated and discouraged. Telling a child to focus may prove less effective than engaging the child in practice through play. Playing an active self-regulation game may do the trick. Have your child hop, dance, skip, or do jumping jacks. Then call out frequent, rapid changes during the activity. “Go faster, go slower, go superfast, go right, go left, go slow and left.” Or “Hop on your left foot, hop on your right foot, hop with both feet.” Even a bucket of blocks can be used. “Sort these blocks by shape. Now by color. Use only your left hand, use only your right hand.” If you have a child who likes to scream, ask the child to scream as loudly as possible, then a little softer, softer still, softer and softer until a whisper.
Children can even learn impulse control during play in which they are physically engaged. If your child is impulsive in a preschool or daycare setting, for example, then play out the scenario with him or her. “Let’s pretend that I want this toy and I won’t share it with you.” Take any real-life situation that is tough for your child and play it out. Through playful practice children will gain control and learn ways to handle various situations.
Children benefit from active, physical play.