Let’s get physical, physical…!

Psychotherapist, WONITA WOOLHOUSE, delves into the merits of the HUDDLE Kids exercise programme – aimed to empower children through exercise.

While my career has evolved into psychotherapy, my paediatric occupational therapy background remains intricate to the work I do today – it has been a harmonious marriage! Recently I became involved in HUDDLE Group Fitness, as I have always been active and this place was relatively new and apparently innovative. It was there that I was introduced to the HUDDLE Kids sessions, where I thought my daughter might benefit from attending. She has played some team sports, but it’s not really her thing. Through a professional lens, I could see the benefits of this group straight away. However, it was more with my ‘mum lens’ that I saw this group offering something novel and inviting for children that were perhaps not ‘fitting’ elsewhere because of various struggles, whether that be anxiety or low-level physical difficulties. While belonging to an exercise framework, there is SO much more to HUDDLE Kids than just getting children active. It’s an enticing option that I would like more families to know about.

Being engaged in team sports and athletic clubs is not necessarily the most crucial thing in a child’s world. What is essential, however, is having the skills of stability, strength, muscle tone, effectively coordinating the left with the right side of the body and sensory processing. By getting to grips with these skills, children can carry out all the basic skills that are expected of them – dressing, writing, reading, sustaining postural tone for sitting upright in a classroom, regulating emotions, control over the force of movement, navigating the world and developing a healthy sense of oneself. Huge stuff! Now, throw in some anxiety from early and recent experiences in Christchurch that have been beyond our control, and we are facing children who struggle with working out how to be “OK” in this world. As parents understandably battle with their own responses to these situations, our children need a chance to re-wire their brains that have been programmed to have a heightened arousal response to situations that no longer require such a primitive or ‘alarm’ response. Heightened arousal influences the extent to which we can manage our anxiety.

There is growing evidence to support sensory modulation as an intervention to regulate emotional and psychological arousal. Paediatric occupational therapists will often be the ones to work with such issues although current treatments available seem largely unaffordable or unavailable due to lengthy waitlists. HUDDLE Kids is a non-medical model approach to overall wellbeing. The emphasis is on challenging oneself rather than competing with others. 

The HUDDLE Kids programme also looks at supporting children’s self-regulation skills and emotional regulation skills. It’s easy for some children to get overwhelmed by a significant input of sensory information. The brainstem gets flooded, and it is difficult for the child to feel grounded or reassured. The HUDDLE Kids exercises look at strengthening competency and connection to one’s body, hence allowing for greater self-regulation as well as reflective capacity for autonomy and control over one’s actions and emotions. By self-regulating, children begin to feel a sense of mastery, competence and efficacy in our world today.

With time, this development through exercise is installed at an intrinsic or ‘felt’ level, when these children achieve the challenges set by trainer, Yvette Merrin. The focus is on what each child can do, rather than what they cannot. The all-inclusive message is about each child being their best. 

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