Making Sense of the Senses: How Limiting Children’s Physical Movement Exacerbates Challenging Behaviors

We all know that exercise is beneficial for our health. Everyone knows it’s better to walk than to take a cab, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and to park your car further away to sneak in a little more exercise every day. The need for exercise and movement goes far beyond weight control or maintaining heart health. Exercise has a proven number of mental and emotional benefits as well. 

Children also need physical movement as much as, if not more than, adults. Giving children the time and space for free play is vital to their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

What keeps kids from playing?

Free playtime for children has been cut back more and more in recent years. This is caused by a multitude of reasons, some of which are unsurprising. The increased use of technology is an obvious culprit as many children prefer playing with iPads or video games rather than going outside. While technology can be a useful educational tool, it is harmful when it supplants physical play. 

A more surprising obstacle that prevents children from free play is hovering parents. Well-meaning parents tend to structure more of their child’s free time, filling their days with scheduled activities which may or may not include any outdoor or playtime. Even then, the play is usually structured team sports with little room for creativity or exploration. 

Exercise and free play combat anxiety and depression

Free play and time outside are not only beneficial for children physically, but it increases their happiness and general well-being. Just as the amount of time children spend playing has decreased over the years, the rates of anxiety, depression, and even suicide among children have increased. 

Free play, particularly outdoors, has proven benefits for mental health in children. This is partially because during play the brain must redirect its resources from worrying to coordination and other uses. Exercise changes brain chemistry and the activity and pathways of neurotransmitters that keep kids happy and healthy. 

Physical movement improves performance and behavior in school

Exercise not only keeps children physically healthy and happy, but it also boosts their performance in class and helps with behavioral problems. One of the obvious reasons for this is because when children are provided time and space to exert their energy outside the classroom they will be better prepared to sit and pay attention. Having an outlet and release for energy is crucial to keeping kids balanced. Also, exercise helps increase mental alertness. An active body can help boost an active mind, improving grades, test scores, and overall school performance.   also allows children to learn to interact with each other, develop social skills, and solve problems together. 

Providing children with time and space for free play and exploration can work wonders in improving their physical, mental, and emotional health. It also helps their cognitive and social development, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Free play is proven to boost classroom performance and help prevent and decrease behavioral problems. Adults must build free play time into children’s days to help keep them happy and healthy.

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