Place2Be & The Importance of Play for Building Resilience in Children
The importance of children and young people’s mental health has never been more critical, particularly under the restrictions forced upon us by the pandemic. With schools shut for most pupils right now and children isolated from their friends, there has been a major disruption to our children’s way of life.
Place2Be is a children’s mental health charity that provides counselling and mental health support and training in UK schools, using tried and tested methods backed by research.
Place2Be launched the first ever Children’s Mental Health Week in 2015 to shine a spotlight on the importance of children and young people’s mental health. Now in its seventh year, their hope is to encourage more people than ever to get involved and spread the word.
This year, from 1-7 February 2021 schools, youth groups, organisations and individuals across the UK will take part in Children’s Mental Health Week. This year’s theme is Express Yourself.
Expressing yourself is about finding ways to share feelings, thoughts, or ideas, through creativity and play. This could be through art, music, writing and poetry, dance and drama, photography and film, and doing activities that make you feel good.
It’s important to remember that being able to express yourself is not about being the best at something or putting on a performance for others. It is about finding a way to show who you are, and how you see the world, that can help you feel good about yourself.
Resilience is the ability to roll with the punches and not let adversity define you. Children are not born with resilience, which is produced through the interaction of biological systems and protective factors in the social environment. Children who do well in the face of serious hardship typically have a biological resistance to adversity and strong relationships with the important adults in their family and community. The single most common factor for children to develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. Learning to cope with manageable threats is critical for the development of resilience.
The pandemic has tested the resilience of both children and parents alike. During the early months of the pandemic, we used “surge capacity”as a coping mechanism. “Surge capacity” (Ann Masten 2020) is a collection of adaptive systems - mental and physical - that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters. But natural disasters occur over a short period of time, even if the ensuing recovery is long. Pandemics are different - the disaster itself stretches out for an undefined period of time. The initial emergency phase of this pandemic has become chronic and we struggle to renew our depleted “surge capacity” to cope. We have to adapt to a different style of coping.
A lot of our children are feeling loss or specifically ambiguous loss, which is a loss that’s unclear and lacks a resolution. The pandemic has brought about the loss of a way of life and as per any loss, we are liable to experience grief with feelings of denial; anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance - but managing ti requires a bit of creativity. Luckily we live in a solution-oriented culture.
The importance of ‘play’ in encouraging emotional and psychological resilience is not to be underestimated. Routines that schedule time for play and other activities without purpose are hugely beneficial to our children’s wellbeing and ability to build emotional resilience. Doing things simply because they are fun and not because they’ll help achieve a goals vital to human development. Play is at the core of creativity and innovation. Play can mean anything that makes us lose track of time and self-consciousness, creating the clearing where ideas are born. Make time to play, laugh and have fun.
“It is in playing and only playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.” Donald Winnicott
Routines support resilience and balance. Physical routines support our mental health. If you can set times for walking, meals, bath and bed (the cornerstone of stable family life), ensure you prioritise sleep, stay on top of screen time and don’t over watch the news which can trigger or feed anxiety, you are supporting resilience and balance.