How to Teach New Skills by Acting out Scenes

mother and son
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It’s one thing for kids to hear parents give them instructions on how to do things differently, but to be most effective, they need an opportunity to practice. Role playing provides them with an opportunity to practice new behavior in a safe environment. You can offer feedback and coaching by creating role playing opportunities.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to role playing with your child:

1. Identify a Scenario

Pick a specific issue you want to work on with your child and identify a realistic scenario. For example, if you want to know how your 12-year-old would respond if a stranger knocked on the door when he was home alone, describe the scene to your child.

2. Choose Your Roles

Normally, it’s helpful to have your child to play the role of himself. If your child is really struggling with a specific situation, you can play the part of your child and let your child be another kid or the adult. Then, you can show your child how he could respond, before asking him to practice it.

For example, say, “Let’s pretend you’re the teacher. Say to me what your teacher usually says. I’ll pretend to be you.” Then, model for your child some healthy responses. This can be an effective way to show your child he has many choices in the way he reacts or behaves.

3. Act out a Scene

Rather than sitting on the couch and talking about it, get up and actually act out the scene. Ask him to show you what he would do or say. Make it as realistic as possible.

If you’re helping your child discover how to deal with a bully on the bus, pretend you’re riding on the bus together. If you’re teaching your child about phone etiquette, call your child from another room.

4. Provide Feedback

When you’ve finished role-playing a specific scenario, provide your child with feedback. Always try to start with the positive. Say, “I really like the way you stayed calm when I was pretending to be a bully.” Praise your child’s efforts in participating.

Then, discuss what things your child could have done better. Provide gentle feedback about what other things could have worked.

For example, say, “I think it would have worked better if you would have told the bully to stop picking on you first.” You can also ask a question to your child such as, “What do you think would have happened if you would have told the teacher?”

5. Practice Again

The point of roleplaying should be to help your child learn, so it’s important to practice more than once. Help your child experiment with new behavior and different reactions until he feels confident about making healthy decisions.

Role playing can enhance your child’s problem-solving skills and show him that there is always more than one way to solve a problem. Allow for some creativity and discuss the potential pros and cons of behaving in a certain way.

Even if your child chooses to respond or behave in a way that isn’t a good choice, it’s important to discuss the potential consequences. For example, say, “Let’s think about what might happen if you called the bully names.” This can help your child recognize that although it’s an option, choosing that solution may not result in the best outcome.

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