Why Play is Important for Kids with Challenging Behaviors

Play may seem like an innocent pastime, but it’s also one of the most powerful tools that parents can use to support their children’s social, emotional, and behavioral development. Studies have shown that play has the ability to develop confidence, empathy, and personal responsibility while improving cognitive skills and relieving stress. Best of all, play can be used as a form of therapy or enrichment activity to support kids with challenging behaviors or developmental delays. However, since every child is different, it’s important to tailor your approach to each child’s needs so you can best support their growth through play.

1) Reduces Stress: Why Play is Important for Kids

Many parents report that their children have less anger and aggression when they have been playing prior to a transition or other activity. While play can’t be used as a way to avoid difficult situations, it has been shown in some studies to lower stress. This then helps children respond more effectively in situations where frustration or anger may lead them to act out negatively. This decrease stress overall and allows kids who tend towards challenging behaviors due to internal factors like anxiety or poor self-regulation, rather than external ones like getting caught up in peer pressure, time together during which you can begin building positive associations with particular people or places which you often find challenging.

2) Improves Physical Health: Why Play is Important for Kids

Playing improves physical health in a variety of ways. First, it releases serotonin and endorphins, which help reduce stress and can improve your mood. Second, it encourages exercise through motor skills. Third, play helps people develop coordination and body awareness as they learn to use their imagination and creativity to pretend or engage in make-believe games such as tag or hide-and-seek. Finally, play can be used as a type of therapy to build social skills by encouraging interactions between peers through cooperative board games like UnoTM or Snakes & LaddersTM. Using these games can also help build emotional intelligence (EQ), which refers to an individual’s ability to identify and manage emotions—including their own—and respond appropriately in different situations.

3) Improves Mental Health: Why Play is Important for Kids

Many people believe that children with challenging behaviors have a deficit in cognitive skills. But research shows that they have just as much of an ability to process, store, and recall information as other kids. What they sometimes lack are life experiences that allow them to connect their previous knowledge to new situations and appropriately respond. In fact, mental health issues such as ADHD, conduct disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) often arise from a child’s inability to make sense of or cope with a difficult environment. When a child is presented with something he doesn’t know how to deal with—an unfamiliar noise or toy—he has no way of associating it with something he does understand. Instead, he becomes frightened by what he sees as strange and unknown, which can lead to aggression or tantrums. This is where play comes in: during playtime, we model different ways of handling these stressful moments so kids learn coping strategies they can later use when experiencing stress in non-play situations. The more opportunities you provide for your child to be exposed to things he doesn’t yet know how to handle and help him move through those sensations into calmness, the better equipped he will be to manage his responses when faced with similar situations in real life. Thus, play not only makes us smarter; it also helps us develop our emotional intelligence.

4) Supports Brain Development: Why Play is Important for Kids

The experience-expectant aspect of play supports brain development, particularly during periods of rapid growth. This isn’t to say that kids must engage in structured or free play, but rather play needs to occur without pressure or coercion. And it needs to be meaningful and fun—which can range from playing house to playing a superhero, just as long as there are no external expectations imposed on what children do during play. What matters most is that children have opportunities to experiment with their environment through movement and social interaction freely. The right kind of experiences will allow them to develop greater cognitive skills by allowing them to safely explore their surroundings while having access to appropriate supports when they struggle.


In conclusion, it is clear that play can help children who have been diagnosed with certain behavioral disorders or special needs. While there are many ways to help your child when they’re struggling with emotional regulation and self-regulation through play, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

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Susy's Family Child Care

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41755 Brownstown Dr, Bermuda Dunes, CA


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