Much has been written about the behavioral difficulties children across the world are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research has shown that the lockdowns, social isolation, and changes in daily routines have affected adults’ mental health and parenting negatively, and symptoms of stress seen in children include nervousness, agitation, aggression, separation fears, and clingy behavior (see Cohen & Bamberger, 2021). Reduced opportunities for both indoor and outdoor play activities have also been linked to mental health difficulties in children in some cultures.

In times of adversity, children should be given space to use different forms of play as a coping mechanism to explore their emotions and adapt to their current situation. In this article, we draw on the findings of three qualitative studies conducted in various countries with different levels of economic development to demonstrate how children use play to cope with challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Play serves a protective function even in the most difficult of circumstances.”

Models of adversity and resilience outline the multisystem influences on how families and children respond to difficult experiences (e.g., war, statelessness, poverty, natural disasters) across cultures. At the heart of resilience is the human capability to face, adapt to, and gather strength from adversity. One way children demonstrate resilience is through playful activities.

Play serves a protective function even in the most difficult circumstances, unmasks the psychosocial difficulties (e.g., anxiety, depression, emotional distress) children may encounter, and highlights the adaptive qualities they use to cope with adversities. Play permits children to express emotional connectedness, a perspective that aligns well with the contention that play is key to emotional survival.

At different stages of the ongoing COVID–19 pandemic, researchers examined how children used playful activities to cope with social isolation and school closures, and to gain an understanding of the virus itself. An examination of the play of Israeli children during the early stages of the pandemic revealed an increase in play interactions with siblings and parents, and marked changes in the nature and themes of sociodramatic play (i.e., acting out imaginary stories and situations; Cohen & Bamberger, 2021).

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