Being resilient is an integral part of a child’s development and helps bolster mental health and well-being. Resilience is a character trait that we build and as such we can help our children become more resilient, meaning they will be able to cope with challenges and change and manage stress and anxiety.
Resilience starts from early childhood. It takes shape in the context of relationships and the environment. As playing enables children to discover and master their environment, it is only natural that playing will contribute to developing their resilience. Children develop skills through play by trying and testing things out, testing limits and boundaries, nourishing their intuitive and inquisitive nature and curiosity, and as a way of mastering their surrounding environment. So if resilience is about coping with change and challenges, it is therefore about grasping and understanding the environment in which we live and evolve. It is also about building the tools and the strategies to deal with life events. Children cannot just be taught how to be resilient. They need to understand how to be resilient and build the coping mechanisms that will see them thrive in the face of hardship as well as overcome adversity.
Playing is a great tool for children to develop their resilience, especially free play, which can seem like simple activities but they provide children with the opportunity to explore their environment and therefore build resilience, not to mention enhance their creativity and self-confidence. By taking control of the activity they are playing, children can practice new behaviours in a safe environment. Furthermore, they can try new strategies and problem-solving abilities, whilst making connections and feeling somewhat in control of their world and environment. Where children feel that they are free to play and set up their own terms and rules, they are able to make choices, grow and face a world of opportunities. Such activities could include interacting with the nature around them (trees, plants, insects), moving freely (in parks or gardens, running, jumping, climbing and falling), playing with any materials that are safe and can be handled, or drawing freely on a blank piece of paper or enhancing the child’s imagination with a prompt to draw.
Another component of building resilience is relationships, especially caring and nurturing relationships. As the proverb goes, it takes a village to raise a child. In the same way that it is important for children to interact with other children by playing and co-operating, solving issues and conflicts together, experiencing wins and losses, adult relationships strengthen children’s ability to be resilient. By enveloping children in a caring and nurturing adult world, they will be able to experiment and take on challenges in a safe environment and build coping mechanisms to face stress and adversity. Through play, adults can help children develop strategies that will help them throughout their life. Free play, as well as guided play with adults, promote social and emotional resilience by providing opportunities to build self-regulation of emotions, language and communication skills and all within a stable and protective environment. By being present and interacting with children, adults can provide a safe place for children to be themselves and to play on their own terms, whilst keeping an eye on them. Parents, carers and teachers all play a role in helping children build resilience.
Despite having busy schedules, allowing for free time should be considered as an important part of the weekly planning to allow children to develop a plenitude of skills, including resilience, which will enable them to adjust more accordingly and with efficacy to challenges and life events. The last couple of years has shown us how important it is to be able to cope with stress and anxiety and difficult circumstances that life throws at us. The benefits of play will expand and contribute to mental and physical health, as well as well being, and will help children from early childhood to build resilience.