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Play for Resilience


The current COVID-19 pandemic has us on an unprecedented journey through difficult conditions filled with challenge and anxiety. As we all do our best and pray for solutions to be identified and available, we have a common human trait to strengthen us along the way: resilience!

Yes, I did say common. It turns out resilience is not a Marvel superpower, nor a rare trait found only in a lucky few. The research of Masten & Tellegen (2012) at the University of Minnesota, who have been studying resilience for the past 40+ years, concludes that resilience is prevalent among people. Given that these studies were conducted with Minneapolis kids, resilience is definitely common for us and has characteristics that can be trained and strengthened.

The general definition of resilience across research and literature is the ability to endure, and even thrive, in the face of adversity because of internal and external resources. We would all like to feel less pain and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic! Resiliency built inside of play may do this for us, and that is what I am going to discuss in this blog. We need play now more than ever, so I will describe 7 elements inside of play that promote resiliency.

1. Connection

Play offers the magic of a shared experience directed by a child. You might ask, “Where is the magic in that?” A child leading play is offering you an invitation to ‘walk in their shoes’ through the experience they are creating for you! Wow, don’t miss the power of this: it is a shared felt experience you are being invited into! This is an opportunity to understand something by feeling it in experience, rather than knowing it as a mental idea. A child will communicate their joy & fear to you by directing you through an experience.

If you ask questions or begin teaching, you will interrupt the child’s communication. As my first counseling supervisor MarDee Rosen Hall told me years ago, “kids are masters at getting you to feel how they feel.” Play therapy has demonstrated this for me time and time again. Young children do not communicate with words and ideas; they communicate by getting you to understand an experience. The idea of swimming is a far cry short of experiencing the water. Kids do not communicate through abstract concepts; they facilitate experiences to foster shared understanding. What greater opportunity is there to connect with someone than to ‘walk in their shoes’ through a shared experience they are directing? Play connects us in powerful ways!