The Resilient Child


For the past six months, I have been making a study of what has been called “eco-anxiety.” As the science and consequences of environmental degradation becoming increasingly known by the population as a whole, and to youth specifically, the mental and physical health impacts are mounting and widespread.

My first impulse has been to see what can be done to address this trend. I investigated establishing an education center here in Sonoma County, something along the lines of the Exploratorium in S.F., that would display and allow children to explore concrete actions to address climate change. After several months interviewing the various stakeholders, it became clear that, while the idea was valued, there was little to no appetite for adding such a project to anyone’s agenda.

As this effort was winding down, I came across the work of Dr. Harris and her book, The Deepest Well, which sets forth the impacts of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on children and their future health. It became clear to me that eco-anxiety is rapidly become a new ACE to add to the ten already identified. One of the main ways that ACEs can be mitigated is through counseling. Given the number of children impacted by climate change with over 70% believing that this is a crisis that will have a significant impact on their lives, it became clear that there will be a huge need for counseling in the near future. As I explored such a project, I came across a group within the American Psychological Association that is looking at this issue. After several discussions, it became clear that these folks know what the problems are and are also actively creating programs to address the need.

While the issue of eco-anxiety remains a concern for me, it is also clear then some people are much better positioned to address the problem than am I. My sweet spot is play in early childhood, and my action plan is to write a book on play patterns and their triggers. To that end, I have completed the first draft and submitted my proposal to NAEYC to further develop the manuscript for publication.

As I have been pursuing this endeavor, I recalled that Dr. Harris mentioned that not all children who have ACEs have the dire mental and physical outcomes that are so often the outcome of such exposure. Why?

It is reasonable to assume that children who turn out fine despite experiences that will traumatize others have a quality that can be summed up with the word “resilient.” While that are many experiences that help a child be more resilient, I thought it would be helpful to identify the characteristics that I think of when I consider the term. I’ve organized these into a chart.

Resilent Child Chart

I based this idea on what I have observed that children learn through self-initiated play. It is easy to see that that free play builds the mind, the body, and the spirit. Then I looked at each of these domains and identified the skills that play promotes.

I rather like how this turned out, but I don’t pretend that this graphic has scientific validity, or indeed, captures all of the traits that help a child be more resilient. I will maintain, however, that the thrust of this diagram is essentially correct. I also feel that its simplicity goes a long way to illustrate the primary benefits of play-based environments and programming.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts about this approach.




3 thoughts on “The Resilient Child

  1. Good stuff Jay. My immediate thought was how much Greta Thunberg illustrates some of the things you’re talking about. It would be interesting to know what her “play” experience was growing up.

    I really don’t have any great insight other than exposing children (and adults for that matter) to as much quality built and natural environment as possible. Peak their curiosity with genuine experience over faux simulations. Going camping probably better than a theme park. A wild animal sighting better than a zoo. etc. etc.

    I like your graphic very much. I may steal it! (and give you credit of course).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are welcome to use the graphic of course. I agree that the times are swiftly moving towards real experience, materials, and feelings. It will interesting to see how the play industry adapts.


  3. I am slow to the draw with this comment. But, I marked it to return to and am just getting back to it.

    I really like the diagram. I think so many people link play and physical development. This very clearly starts to show it is a very balanced conversation with cognitive and emotional development.

    I think play is a great tool for processing trauma. It gives kids control and space to replay situations and roles and start to process. We could all use the benefit of flexible and free time amd space to work through things.


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