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Life Is Good Playmakers: Spreading Optimism, Joy, and Hope through Compassionate Connection

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

By Dana Asby, CEI Director of Innovation & Research Support and Sofia Duenas, CEI Intern

Life is Good Playmakers knows that a connection with a single caring adult can make a world of difference in the life of a child who has experienced trauma. “Positive relationships with adult caregivers are the most critical component to successful early childhood trauma treatment” (Life is Good Playmakers, n.d.). They use an evidence-based approach to infusing optimism and positivity into child-adult relationships to help heal the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

“If our brain is forced to spend its childhood years surviving, it becomes a surviving brain. And a surviving brain is very different than a playful brain. Where a playful brain is open to engage, connect, and explore, a surviving brain is about fighting; it is about fleeing; it is about hiding; and it is about surviving.” Steve Gross

Spreading Joy Around the World

The Life is Good Playmaker program is the result of over thirty years of research, led by Chief Playmaker, Steve Gross, MSW. The program provides trainings, tools, and coaching to help childcare professionals and other adults harness the power of optimism to help kids heal and build life changing relationships.

Since 1989, Steve Gross has been working with childcare providers across the world to help them build safe and joyful communities. When Steve started this work, he thought he’d simply be delivering trainings, but he quickly realized that he was in the personal development, transformational growth, and life changing relationship business. From Boston to Turkey to Haiti, Playmakers has transitioned from providing direct services to children to changing the mindsets and behaviors of early childhood educators.

The Life is Good Playmakers program helps care providers, many of whom are suffering from the same problems of toxic stress and systemic injustice that the children they care for are, discover and tap into their joy, inspiration, and internal control to make meaningful connections. Playmakers learn that optimism isn’t a temporary state, but rather a trait that one can develop with practice, like any skill!

Playful Environments for Children to Heal

To build positive relationships, Life is Good Playmakers teaches caregivers to ensure each child has an “O’playsis.” O’Playsis is a combination of the words oasis and playfulness. It challenges educators to consider play and learning as synonyms. An O’Playsis gives children a place where they can be calm, and learn to build relationships and regulate their emotions. For children who experience challenges in their lives like poverty, violence, fear or illness, play is incredibly important because their experiences often lead them to focus on survival. Through an O’playsis, children can find joy.

O’Playsis has four key ingredients: internal control, social connection, active engagement and joyfulness.

  1. Internal Control: a combination of feelings of safety, worth, and competence that foster a sense of freedom and empowerment

  2. Social Connection: community and belonging and a sense of community

  3. Active Engagement: being fully present in the moment

  4. Joyfulness: feelings of love, fulfillment, and hope

These four components coming together to create an O’playsis is what allows children to work through adversity, thrive in healthy moments of independence, build connections with others, ask for and accept help, as well as have positive social interactions.

Bringing Optimism and Joy to Your School

Life is Good Playmakers partners with schools, childcare facilities, and other organizations serving young children to bring their training to its staff. With COVID-19 keeping teachers and parents inside, they’ve moved their training online. Starting August 10th, you can join their Playmaker 101: The Healing Power of Optimism training course. They’ll introduce their new back to school campaign, Open up with Optimism with a webinar for teachers and educational professionals on August 27th. Join us on July 16th when Life is Good Playmakers Founder and Chief Playmaker Steve Gross talks with CEI’s Executive Director Dr. Christine Mason and the Director of the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center’s School Mental Health Initiative Dr. Martha Staeheli about opening school up with optimism and connection this fall.


Life is Good Playmakers. (n.d.). Our work.

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