Reduce anxiety in children through Role-play
Anxiety in children is classified by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worrying about future events. This can manifest in physical, behavioral, and emotional ways making it difficult for your child to function normally in various environments. One way to help children cope with their anxiety is by preparing for the event they are worried about. Role-play provides the perfect opportunity to practice how to appropriately calm down before a situation occurs. Role-playing can also include practicing worst-case scenarios so your child is more prepared to think clearly in the moment and learns how to problem solve difficult situations.
Role-playing with your anxious child should focus on using techniques to overcome anxiety
Role-playing isn’t used to just act out common situations, but should be centered around the coping skills that they’ve found work for them. As an in-home social worker I worked with a teenage girl who struggled with anxiety and depression. We had explored coping mechanisms with her and she had role-played throughout our intervention using those coping skills. While in history class one day her anxiety became unbearable as she learned about World War II and the death and calamity that went along with it. She tried to use her coping skills in class, but eventually talked privately with the teacher and was able to leave the classroom and properly calm down while alone, away from the stimulus. Because of her practice and use of the skills she recognized that her anxiety was getting worse despite trying to rationalize that there wasn’t a war currently around her, and acted to find the right solution to help her calm down. Including calming techniques into your role-playing will be most effective in helping your child learn to cope with their anxiety and be prepared for unexpected situations that arise when you’re not around.
Role-play at a neutral time
Practice when your child is already calm and not feeling anxious feelings. If your child is escalated emotionally it is difficult for them to think rationally and apply coping skills. Role-playing should be done at a time unrelated to their regular stressors so they can fully practice their coping skills while calm. You can also role-play right before common anxiety-inducing situations occur, and this should be done regularly, but make sure they are calm before doing so.
Show your child how to use the skill first before having them practice on their own
Showing how a skill should be used teaches faster than talking about a skill. You want your child to practice the correct way and they often don’t know the right way until they see it done first. It will also help them feel more comfortable Role-playing when you have acted out the situation first. Then once it is their turn have them role-play at least 3 times to solidify and refine the skill. You may also need to see how to implement role-playing before you teach it to your child. Go to our website, http://www.smarterparenting.com, and watch the lesson about Role-playing so you learn the correct way.
Have fun role-playing!
Humor and amusement are great tools to reduce your child’s anxiety, so if you can include this into your role-playing your child will be more willing to participate because it is light-hearted and enjoyable. Dress up for the role-play, use your child’s favorite action figures to act out the skill, or speak in funny voices. Your child should enjoy role-playing and think of it as a positive activity to do together.
Adjust the scenarios and times
Once your child becomes comfortable using the skill of role-play, practice different scenarios and at difference times. Be creative in the types of situations you use and adapt them to what you have observed is difficult for your child. You should also begin to role-play at unexpected times of the day so your child can practice reducing their anxiety at any time. Have your child participate in choosing scenarios since they know best what produces anxiety for them. During this time encourage them to express when they have been successful using the skill and when they have needed to use the skill but didn’t, and how that affected the situation. This will provide added situations to practice.
Start implementing simple role-plays right away. Set-up incentives initially to encourage participation and to make role-playing a positive experience for your child. Include all family members in role-playing so your anxious child does not stand apart and can observe more examples of role-playing. Over time role-playing will become a natural part of your home and a regular tool you use to help reduce your child’s anxiety.