Connecting with others, young or old, has been my strength since I was a child. I attribute this largely to participating in “heavy work” sports such as wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as well as participating regularly in play dates that involved gross motor activities.
When combining proprioceptive (heavy work for organizing the Central Nervous System) and vestibular (body awareness/balance) activities at a high intensity we are able to emotionally regulate and socially participate at an optimal alert state. This is how I have run “Boot Camps” at pediatric OT clinics, in which the children love to engage and bond with other children.
The number one key with children who have poor social skills is to boost their self-esteem and confidence with their gross motor skill set. As a therapist, I feel it is very important to demonstrate the activities to increase mirror neuron connections (socially and motor wise) in which to gain a better understanding and watch their mentor/role model show their leadership. By having them complete various heavy work challenges or obstacle courses they will want to show other kids that they have created something cool and how to do it.
I have the child break down the activity step-by-step to me after they have feel confident. You can have your client/child invite others by saying, “Do you want to play?” to the next child that is near their maturity level. Once they have performed my client’s activity the other child gets to be the leader next time, showing them something new and exciting. That one monstrous first step is the social connection bridge to Friendship Island.
By performing full body movement based activities humans release endorphins which improve your emotional state. You will notice the children’s energy and mood become more positive. During a group Boot Camp, I will choose a theme that all children have in common. Then have them work together as the GREEN team which means when they follow directions, are safe while using teamwork skills and are positive during a challenge, their team gets a point. If they are being negative, impulsive, unsafe, getting distracted the other RED team gets a point. The children will work together through the thick and thin to defeat the opposing (imagery) team.
When children relate on common grounds during gross motor play it makes a world of difference on their interaction with others peers. Sign up your child for a gross motor social skills group and you will see a difference on how they socialize at school, in public and at home.
Alex Lopiccolo is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Consultant, Jin Shin Practitioner, Wilbarger Therapressure Brushing Protocol Practitioner, Therapeutic Listening Program Practitioner who explores Sensory Integration inspired therapeutic activities. Alex, his wife and baby live in Edmonds, Washington. His favorite activities are spending time with his family and exploring the Pacific Northwest.