How to Support the Emotional Development of Children Through Active Play


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 the emotional development of children through active play is very beneficial. 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

Suggestions to Support the Emotional Development of Children Through Active Play

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:

  1. Observe the children and see what they enjoy playing. Create more opportunities for what they enjoy.
  2. 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.
  3. Praise children when they achieve new motor tasks or skills.
  4. Add emotions to make believe active play i.e. be a silly troll, a happy princess or a miserable witch
  5. 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.
  6. 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

Resources to Help with Emotions and Self-Regulation

Emotions Packet: This Emotions Packet includes 5 activities that encourage fine motor skills, copying, visual motor skills and finger strengthening: Emotion match up, One Big Family, Cool Your Emotions, Smash the Emotion and Match the Emotions. The worksheets explore 10 different feelings by drawing and writing about feelings.  FIND OUT MORE INFORMATION

If you need help teaching self-regulation skills to children, get more information on this Self Regulation Skills Curriculum.

Self- Regulation Skills Taught: This curriculum provides an effective, time-efficient structured system to provide classroom breaks, improve self-awareness and self-advocacy and teach specific self-regulation skills so that kids have tools to use in their classrooms. This system will get kids moving, give them the benefits of a brainpower boost [from getting their heart rate up], give them heavy work and isometrics to help them calm down, and help them learn techniques to quiet and control their bodies in order to return to their academic work.  FIND OUT MORE.

How to Support the Emotional Development of Children Through Active Play