Physical Activity Boosts Emotional Health

As therapists, we frequently provide physical activities for children to promote muscle strengthening, range of motion, balance, motor skills and coordination. We must not forget that physical activity also helps to boost the social and emotional health of children. Physical, active play can help children to:

  • express emotions such as smiling and laughing
  • negotiate with peers during games such as turn taking, establishing rules of games, etc
  • reduce stress
  • elevate the mood
  • establish feelings of pride and accomplishment by achieving goals such as climbing equipment or running around a track

Therapists can offer suggestions to parents and teachers on how to support the emotional development of children through play.  Here are some helpful tips to suggest:

  •  observe the children and see what they enjoy playing.  Create more opportunities for what they enjoy.
  • recommend “just right” activities for the children.  Provide teachers and parents with a list of activities that the children can accomplish to help boost feelings of self worth.  Perhaps provide some activities that may be a challenge so that children can have a sense of accomplishment of pushing themselves to achieve more.
  • praise children when they achieve new motor tasks or skills
  • add emotions to make believe active play i.e. be a silly troll, a happy princess or a miserable witch
  • offer some activity ideas that all children can participate in regardless of motor skill to encourage peer interaction.  This will help some children to focus on the social aspects of play without having to struggle with motor skills.
  • keep children motivated and engaged.  If certain activities are not encouraging active play, change it up to make it more active.  Add more loose parts to play such as balls and hula hoops rather than relying on playground equipment to get children moving.

Physically active play can help children to become more confident, develop self control and support emotional health.

Reference:  Dr. Jeffrey Trawick-Smith and Julia DeLapp. Moving With Feeling Nurturing Preschool Children’s Emotional Health Through Active Play. Brief developed by the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University for Head Start Body Start. Retrieved from the web on 9/20/11 at

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Feelings Activities

Create 3 activities to help children learn about emotions and feelings.