How can weight impact a child’s play time or leisure activities?
Updated: Nov 13
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Welcome back to the OT 4 ME blog, where we are on the third post of the “How Weight Can Impact a Child’s Occupations” series. At OT 4 ME, we help children in Florida struggling with their weight get healthy while having FUN!
If you’re new this series, you may want to start with our first two blogs where we talked about Weight and ADLS or Weight and IADLS. Today, we are going to talk about the possible impact that weight can have on a child’s leisure activities and/or play.
Play is a MAJOR occupation of childhood. It is how children learn to interact with the world around them. Some of the important skills learned during play are social interaction, strength, and coordination. However, when a child is overweight, their play or leisure time can be impacted (Pizzi & Vroman, 2013).
Kids go through various stages of play. First they learn to play by themselves, then next to another child. They then begin to play with another child, and then in groups or on teams. AOTA has a great handout for families explaining the different play that kids experience at different ages (American Occupational Therapy Association, 2011).
Many children who have been diagnosed as overweight or obese may experience difficulty during play time both in school and at home. They may get tired more easily, or have a hard time completing activities on the playground. For example, they may have difficulty balancing or coordinating the movements on a swing. Some children have told me they find they become tired very quickly when running around with friends or playing “tag.”
Older children have expressed that they feel uncomfortable playing sports because they can’t keep up with their friends, or are chosen last on the team. They sometimes feel embarrassed or this can affect their self-confidence.
Another important component to consider is leisure, or “relaxing” activities. Some children who are overweight choose more sedentary (not moving) activities, instead of leisure activities that incorporate movement. For example, instead of playing outside with friends, they may choose to sit on the couch and watch TV or play video games. Other children may want to try new activities, but feel ashamed or embarrassed due to their weight.
So how can occupational therapy help?
Occupational therapists (OTs) evaluate what is meaningful to each child, and what the barriers are to them doing the activities they want to do.
For example, if the child wants to be able to do the swing on the playground, an OT can:
1. Evaluate the type of swing and determine whether it will hold the weight of the child
2. Help the child improve their balance prior to getting on the swing
3. Help the child learn to coordinate their movements so they can propel themselves on the swing
4. Help the child gradually build up their endurance to swing longer
A second example could be participating in team sports where the OT can:
1. Help the child identify a sport they would be interested in playing
2. Help the child improve their strength, coordination, and balance for the sport.
3. Practice the skills in the clinic and natural environment.
4. Identify sports/teams in the area that fit within the family’s budget.
5. Practice self-confidence and social skills to help the child feel more comfortable when starting the activity.
6. Check in and continue to improve skills if the child experiences difficulty with the sport.
From my experience, kids just want to have fun. At OT 4 ME, we want to help them get there so that they can ENJOY life, without being held back by their weight or body image!
Thanks for reading,
1. American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68, S1–S48. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.682006
2. American Occupational Therapy Association. (2011). Building Play Skills for Healthy Children and Families. Tips for Living Life to its Fullest. Retrieved from https://www.aota.org/-/media/Corporate/Files/AboutOT/consumers/Youth/Play/Building%20Play%20Skills%20Tip%20Sheet%20Final.pdf
3. Pizzi, M., A. & Vroman, K. (2013). Childhood obesity: Effects on children’s participation, mental health, and psychosocial development. Occupational Therapy in Healthcare, 27(2), 99-112.
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