Building Resilience Through Play

Play Gloucestershire were recently invited to present our thoughts on resilience at Playwork Partnership’s ARTPAD meeting with a range of European partners. This invitation got us thinking deeply about how what we do contributes to resilience, and our ultimate goal of childhood wellbeing. For a long time now I’ve observed how play builds ‘character’ in children, helping them to take the rough with the smooth and better cope with childhood challenge, trauma and crisis. More recently I’ve started to think of this as resilience – and how play can help children with adversity. In the play sector and beyond, lots of people seem to be recognising the importance of resilience, and I think this is a really good thing. Resilience is a great asset for children to have in their personal locker, and carry forward in their lives.

Here’s an example from a recent play session.

Two small boys always choose to play with each other in our Play Nurture Group, at their primary school. One week, a ‘sword fight’ using plastic water pipes resulted on one getting hit on the hand. Hecalled his friend ‘stupid’, and his friend did not like it one bit. His friend went off, and sat on his own, looking very cross. The other child tried to make friends again, to no avail. He came to me clearly upset, and I listened to him, acknowledging his feelings. Rather than go and fix things, I said I wondered what he could do to make friends again. This boy spent quite some time going between his friend and me, trying to fix things. Finally, he ran over to me looking very happy, and told me they were friends again.

In terms of building resilience, play contributed through learning (some important life skills including reconciliation), emotional regulation (managing feelings and range of emotions), attachment (the importance of friendships and social connections) and problem solving (I can fix this myself).

This shows how the everyday adventures we share with children whilst playing outdoors can contribute to building their resilience.