10 ways to make role-playing fun
When you hear the word “role-play” it doesn’t usually bring up feelings of excitement or memories of the great times you have had role-playing with others in the past. Role-playing can make you feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, and awkward, so you can imagine how your children might feel when asked to role-play a social skill they have just learned. However, role-playing is one of the most effective learning techniques to ensure use of a new skill in the moment that it’s needed, especially when emotions are high. You wouldn’t send your child to play in the state basketball championship without ever having practiced dribbling or direct them on to the stage at Carnegie Hall to play Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 5 without first playing the keys on your own piano. This is the same for learning social skills. If your child has physically practiced using a skill before a real-life situation, it’s more likely that they will be able to apply what they have learned. Because role-playing is essential to learning new behaviors I’m going to go over 10 ways to make role-playing more fun and engaging for your child.
1. Use role reversal
This means you become the child and they become you. Not only is it beneficial for your child to see you use the skill, but it can be humorous to act like your child and for your child to imitate how you act. Some parents even joke about how it was almost “therapeutic” to initially act how their child normally behaves, before using the skill in the correct way. It is also great for children to view the situation from their parent’s perspective and imagine how their parents feel to give instructions or say “No.”
2. Fully take on the character
you are representing, exaggerating the behaviors and skill steps when appropriate. If they sense that you feel awkward about practicing the skill they will feel awkward too; whereas, if they see you being realistic and having fun then they’ll do the same.
3. Make the role-play silly
When teaching following instructions I often have children first use the steps to hop on one foot or run in a circle. This can also be applied to more advanced skills like decision making, by using a silly scenario such as what superhero power they would choose if they were in danger. Once they’ve mastered the steps using silly scenarios then have them practice using a realistic scenario.
4. Include other family members
Children often feel less embarrassed when someone else is acting with them. Asking other family members to join in the role-play not only reduces anxiety, but the added family member may have valuable input into the scenarios or see something you hadn’t considered. It may also provide an opportunity for them to learn the skill and thus encourage support to use the steps outside of role-playing.
5. Play a board game or activity
Role-playing doesn’t have to be limited to everyone standing in a room practicing the same situation over and over again. As long as the steps are practiced correctly it’s okay to be creative. Following a baking recipe is a great way to practice all the steps of following instructions and playing “Sorry” is perfect for role-playing staying calm or dealing with frustration. Once you start incorporating role-playing in your home you’ll find many activities that could support a skill you are teaching.
6. Role-play at unexpected times during the day
In addition to role-playing right after learning a new behavior, stop the child during their daily routine so they learn how to use the skill at any moment. They may be more willing to practice when it’s not an isolated time specifically set aside for role-playing.
7. Call it practice
Simply using a different word to describe role-playing can completely change a child’s perception of the interaction. Practice is regularly used in our vocabulary and therefore less intimidating. Just as they go to soccer practice they can practice how to accept a “no” answer.
8. Come up with new situations to use the skill
Once they have role-played the main situation that you would like to change, have them think of as many other possible places or people they might use the skill with. Have them write down the scenarios on strips of paper and draw them out of a jar. This makes the role-playing more interesting than rehearsing the same scenario over and over and helps them see how applicable the skill is that they are learning.
9. Set up a reward for role-playing a certain number of times a day
Rewards increase interest when first learning a new social skill and help to reinforce the behavior. They may even come ask you to role-play if they are working towards a goal.
10. Role-play outside the house
Similar to coming up with new situations and role-playing at unexpected times, role-playing outside the house will help your children be more successful at applying what they have learned. It also helps you practice prompting the child to use the skill. As with all new skills, over time both you and your child will become more comfortable role-playing and applying the skills no matter where you are.