The Crucial Role of Movement and Play for Children Who Have Experienced Trauma

The Crucial Role of Movement and Play for Children Who Have Experienced Trauma

In our fast-paced world, it can be tempting to hand a child a screen to numb or distract them from their emotional pain. However, this can often exacerbate their feelings of isolation and anxiety.

Instead, encouraging children to engage their minds and bodies through movement and play can be incredibly beneficial.

Trauma can shape a child’s brain and behaviour in ways that make everyday activities, like learning and socialising, challenging. Incorporating movement and play into their daily routine can provide significant benefits. In this blog, we'll explore why movement and play are crucial for children who have experienced trauma, highlighting the brain areas that benefit and backing our insights with research from Australia.


The Brain’s Response to Trauma

Trauma can affect various areas of the brain, including:

  1. The Amygdala: This is the brain’s fear centre, which becomes overactive in children who have experienced trauma. They often remain in a state of heightened alertness and anxiety, which can impede their ability to learn and interact with others.

  2. The Hippocampus: This region is critical for memory and learning. Trauma can shrink the hippocampus, leading to difficulties with memory retention and the ability to focus on tasks.

  3. The Prefrontal Cortex: Responsible for executive functions such as decision-making, impulse control, and emotional regulation, the prefrontal cortex can become underactive due to trauma, making it challenging for children to manage their emotions and behaviours.


How Movement and Play Help

  1. Regulating the Amygdala: Engaging in physical activities can help reduce the overactivity of the amygdala. Playful exercises and structured physical activities promote the release of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. This helps in reducing anxiety and creating a sense of safety and well-being.

  2. Boosting the Hippocampus: Research shows that regular physical activity can increase the size of the hippocampus. Activities that involve movement and coordination, like dancing or obstacle courses, enhance memory and learning capabilities.

  3. Strengthening the Prefrontal Cortex: Movement-based play encourages children to practise decision-making and impulse control. Games that require following rules, taking turns, and strategic thinking can improve the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, aiding in better emotional regulation and social interactions.


Australian Research Supporting Movement and Play

Several studies from Australia highlight the importance of movement and play for children, especially those who have experienced trauma:

  • The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC): This research highlights that children engaging in regular physical activity demonstrate better social skills and emotional well-being. They are more likely to thrive in a structured, supportive environment that includes plenty of opportunities for movement and play.

  • The Centre for Community Child Health (CCCH): Their studies indicate that play-based learning and physical activity are crucial for the cognitive and emotional development of children. These activities help mitigate the adverse effects of trauma by promoting brain plasticity and resilience.


Practical Tips for Incorporating Movement and Play

  1. Create Safe Spaces for Play: Ensure that the play environment is safe and predictable. This helps children feel secure and open to engaging in activities.

  2. Incorporate Sensory Play: Activities like sand play, water play, and sensory bins can help soothe and regulate a child’s nervous system.

  3. Use Structured Physical Activities: Incorporate games that involve physical movement and require children to follow simple rules. This can include team sports, dance routines, or obstacle courses.

  4. Encourage Imaginative Play: Allow children to express themselves through role-playing and imaginative scenarios. This type of play can help them process their experiences and emotions.


By integrating movement and play into the lives of children who have experienced trauma, we can help them heal and develop the skills they need to thrive. For more insights and strategies on supporting children through trauma, check out our detailed article on understanding childhood trauma here.


Join Our Upcoming Webinar

To dive deeper into how we can support traumatised children, join us for our upcoming webinar on reducing the impact of trauma. We’ll brainstorm parasympathetic and attachment strategies to help these children find peace and security. Sign up here.

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