Learning to trust others is a critical component of human development -- occurring during the first two years of life and continuing across the lifespan -- according to Erik Erikson's theory on social-emotional development in human beings. Learning to trust is useful to children to help them play safely and comfortably with one another. Selecting fun, playful trust-building exercises can teach kids how to trust others, while also strengthening their social and cooperation skills.
Trust Falls and Wind in the Willows
Trust Falls is an activity commonly practiced by groups who want to strengthen their confidence in one another, such as the Boy Scouts of America -- of whom has two variations on the exercise. As the name states, Trust Falls involves purposefully falling and being caught by someone else. To start performing trust falls, break kids into groups of two. One partner stands in front of the other, makes his body stiff and communicates when he is going to fall backwards. When he falls, the kid behind him gently catches him and lowers him to the ground. Partners should start close together and put greater distance between them as they become more confident with themselves and each other. Always be sure this exercise is done safely.
If you think your kids are ready for a larger group bonding experience, they can join other partner groups for a common variation on Trust Falls called Wind in the Willows. To play, the group stands in a circle with one child in the middle. The center child makes his body stiff and falls in any direction when everyone is ready. The kids in the circle use their hands to gently push the center kid away from them and pass him around the circle until he is again upright.
A Trust Walk, also known as a Blind Walk, is an activity that encourages children to expand their boundaries and trust one another. To perform this exercise, separate kids into groups of two. Blindfold one of the pair and instruct each couple to hold hands. The non-blindfolded half of the pair guides the "blind" child as they slowly walk together on normal terrain or through obstacles on a course you have arranged, such as stairs, railings or furniture. Again, be sure any obstacles set up are safe and age appropriate. Children should switch roles so that they each get to have both experiences as this will help them better understand each other.
Youth Group Games suggests another game that engages and entertains kids while forcing them to work together in order to complete a challenge. To lead children in Helium Stick, instruct them to stand in a circle, hold their arms parallel to the ground and stick out their pointer fingers. Place a light-weight but large object on their outstretched fingers, such as a hula hoop or stick. Tell them they must lower it to the ground without their fingers losing contact. You will find that children are usually surprised when the stick seems to float upwards although they are trying to will it down--hence the name "helium" stick. Help the children develop a sound strategy for moving the "stick" down, such as counting and moving it inch-by-inch or dropping one side at a time.