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#48: What it takes to change behavior


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Do you want to know the secret of changing behavior? It’s Role-playing! We can’t stress enough how powerful Role-plays are in improving your child’s behavior and preparing them for new situations!

What is a Role-play? It is just like it sounds. It’s where you and your child accept a role to practice new behavior. Role-playing allows your child to see what is required of them and gives them to the ability to practice it over and over until they’ve mastered it. Role-plays work on kids of all ages and can be used to practice almost any situation.

Role-plays do not have to be complicated. Adding too many elements to a Role-play reduces its successfulness. Especially for kids with ADHD, it’s better to do multiple small Role-plays than one large Role-play.

When using Role-playing, we recommend the following.

First, Role-play at a neutral time. When you Role-play at a neutral time, your child is better able to learn the new behavior. If they are distracted or frustrated, they are less likely to be successful in learning a new behavior.

Second, Role-play multiple times. It’s been proven that repetition is essential when it comes to learning new behavior. It’s vital to practice numerous times throughout the day to make sure your child has mastered the new behavior.

Third, do reverse Role-plays. Reverse-Role play is where you and your child switch roles. Changing roles allows you to show them what you expect of them. You can also show them what they are doing incorrectly. Reverse Role-plays teach them greater empathy as it helps them better understand what they’re doing and how that behavior makes others feel.

Children learn through play. Role-play allows you to take what is already second nature to them and apply it to new situations and behavior. It’s especially helpful if you’re funny or silly as it makes Role-plays seem more like play than learning.

Without Role-playing it is almost impossible to change behavior. Children need that practice.

To learn more about Role-playing visit: https://www.smarterparenting.com/skills/role-playing/

Episode Transcript

This is episode 48. Let’s get started.

Smarter Parenting welcomes you to our podcast series, The Parenting Coach for ADHD. Here to heal and elevate lives is your Parenting Coach, Siope Kinikini.

Hello everyone. How are you my friends? I hope everybody’s doing great. I’m doing fantastic and in fact today we will be discussing Role-playing. How to Role-play. It’s a topic that is super, super important. I cannot drive home the importance of parents being able to do this skill effectively with their children. This is the element in all of the skills that we use that actually helps integrate this into your child’s memory, into their body, into the way that they think. This is kind of the key point of where you can assess how well they are actually getting what it is that you are trying to teach them. So it is something that is vastly important, hugely important for you to be able to do well and for you to be able to monitor, engage where your child can improve, and then how to again, help them, teach them how to do it better. That is a ton of information that I’ve shared with you, but I cannot stress the importance of being able to Role-play with your children skills that you want them to learn.

I’m going to start off by discussing first three things. What is Role-playing, we’re going to talk about why it’s important, especially for children. And then we’re going to be talking about reverse Role-playing. Now I know this is all going to blend in with talking about the discomfort that a lot of parents feel when they are asked to Role-play. And I’ve seen it. So I’ve worked with families for years and years and years, and when we get to the element of inserting a Role-play into what we’re doing, all of a sudden a lot of parents, they cower and they back off and they’re like, “Okay…” And they’re worried about what it is that they’re doing as far as the Role-playing goes. So we’re going to talk a little bit about that interspersed with what we’re talking about with what is Role-playing, why it’s important, and then the reverse Role-playing and what that is.

Let’s start off with what it is. What is Role-playing? Now Role-playing is simply that you’re going to play a role. So think about actors in a movie or in a TV show. They’re not who they are on the screen, they’re acting that part out. They’re acting as a character. Now you are not going to be confined to that, and don’t think that you have to give an Oscar worthy performance for a Role-playing with your child. You don’t have to worry about portraying somebody that’s outside of the realm of what you know. You don’t have to do a character study. You don’t have to find what your motivation is like professional actors do when they take on a role. Role-playing is where you take on the role of your child and your child takes on the role of yourself, or that you take on the role of yourself and your child takes on the role of the child.

So you’re only actually Role-playing people that you know, people you know really well. You know yourself really well, and you know your child fairly well. That’s it. We’re not dealing with anything outside of that. So don’t be terrified in doing a Role-play because you’re actually just Role-playing someone in your family that you already know. Role-playing is taking on a role of that person and then having an interaction with them. So that’s what Role-playing is. For example, if I wanted to Role-play, for example, how to help my child Follow Instructions, what I would do is I would play the part of myself and my child and we would practice it. We would Role-play it. I would give them an instruction and then they would follow the instruction. That is how Role-playing works.

Again, I don’t want parents to be terrified by this idea of, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know what to do.” Actually what you’re doing is you’re just going to be yourself or you’re going to be your child. That’s it. And you’re going to act out how it looks and what it feels like. Why is it important? And I’ve all ready mentioned this earlier, but Role-playing is super important because what this does is it helps teach your child what they need to do, how they need to do it, and it gives them a sense of the connection in their mind, in their body of how it feels to do something that’s a little bit different. Why it’s important is it helps you as a parent gauge how well they’re integrating what you’re teaching. But it also helps your child get a feel for what it’s like to accept or to Follow Instructions like we did in the previous example.

So say my child comes in and we are practicing Following Instructions. It’s important because I, while we’re Role-playing, I’ll be able to know if she understands specifically what it is I’m asking her to do. And that clarity is super, super important for parents who have children with ADHD. And remember children are very concrete thinkers. Parents and adults can think abstractly and then they can make meaning out of that. But with children, it needs to be pretty cut and dry what it is you want and how you want it. So Role-playing actually gives them the roadmap that they need in order to do what they need to do based on what your expectations are. This is a safety thing also for your child because it provides them with a lot of security and safety in knowing exactly how to respond and what to do in certain situations.

Why is it important? It’s super important because this is where your child is going to learn the skill and you are going to be able to help them integrate that into entire being. There is a difference between telling somebody something and then having them actually do it.

I was reading a book and it was talking about Role-playing and the importance of Role-playing. And what we find is that getting instruction, getting some instruction from somebody is never as powerful as actually doing it. For example, I can read a million books about playing the piano. I can read a million how to play the piano. I can read those books, but if I do not sit down and practice and actually do it, get that memory in my fingers, get those connections in my brain, listening to the music. I mean, I’m incorporating all these senses into what it is that I am doing. Unless I do that, I will never be able to really play the piano. I can read as many books as I want, I can go to as many lectures and listen to how to play the piano, but unless I’m actually doing, it at won’t stick. And this is exactly the same with your child and learning a new skill or a new behavior. Unless you are able to have them do it, physically do it, and they can incorporate that into all of their senses, they’re never going to really grasp what it is you’re trying to communicate.

Role-playing also offers the opportunity for you to evaluate how well your child is doing and then to offer correction and improvement along the way. So it’s important because it allows for communication. It allows for a child to really integrate what they’re learning. It allows for a lot of things to occur and that’s why it’s such an essential part. You’re going to find that all the skills that we teach that are behavioral in Smarter Parenting have this element of Role-playing. You need to practice it. And the practicing is where the learning is actually integrated and we can see results. So never skip over a Role-play. You want to always Role-play multiple times and in multiple situations and in multiple ways. You want to be able to do that as a parent. So we’ve covered what it is, what Role-playing is, we’ve covered why it’s important. And now I want to talk about reverse Role-playing.

Reverse Role-playing is something that the Teaching-Family Model does. And the reason they do it is to help children understand what it is that the parent is expecting them to do.

What is reverse Role-playing? It’s where the parent takes on the role of the child and the child takes on the role of the parent and they have the interaction. You usually do a reverse Role-play the very first time you’re teaching a skill. For example, if I was to teach my child following instructions, which is the example that we’ve been using, what I would do is I would go over the steps with my child and explain what it is that I’m wanting them to do and then I’d say, “Okay, we’re going to practice it. Now in the practice, let’s practice it with you giving me instruction. You be me, and I’m going to be you, and I will show you how to follow instructions.”

Now this does multiple things. This is a very powerful thing that I think a lot of practitioners who use a Role-playing and the this skill overlook. What this does is it allows the child to actually see what it is that they need to do exactly because the parent is going to do exactly what they want their child to do. They’re going to demonstrate it. They’re going to show them, they’re going to give them an example. This is super powerful because remember we talked about children being concrete thinkers, so if they can see it and they can hear it and they can experience it, then they can adopt it and they can repeat it. Children are mimics, they copy, they copy quite a bit. So the reverse Role-play allows your child to see specifically what they need to do and how they need to do it.

What it also does is it allows for empathy. When a child is playing the role of a parent and the parent is playing the role of a child, the child gets to understand a sense of what is happening when a parent asks and a parent gets a sense of what it’s like to actually receive an instruction from somebody else. It creates this idea of, “Okay, we are working on this together and that there is some empathy going on.” So your child can understand, “Well, when my parent gives me an instruction and I follow it, I feel good about it.” Now, this also goes into play if you’re going to reverse Role-play, but you’re going to give them a bad example of what not to do. Now we recommend that you do what they should do, but if you need to illustrate what it’s like to get them to understand what it’s like when they do not follow instructions, you can do a reverse Role-play with not following the instruction. Now that’s just an example.

A child who’s throwing a tantrum all the time that you ask them to do something, you can reverse Role-playing and say, “Okay, you’re going to ask me to do this and it’s something that I need to follow instructions doing.” So they ask you and then you start behaving like they do. Your child, and I’ve seen this happen multiple times, watching a parent throw a tantrum either makes them laugh or makes them cringe, but it does make them think. And it makes them think about, “Okay, do I look like that? Is that what it’s like? I’m feeling weird because this is weird.” It allows for a lot of empathy to exist between parent and child. So highly recommended that you Role-play various ways you want to Role-play as far as reverse Role-play. You definitely always want to end on reverse Role-playing how to do things correctly and in fact you want to do that multiple times and in multiple ways.

The Role-playing skill video is found on the Smarter Parenting website. I highly recommend you view it, it gives some great tips on how to Role-play, how to make it fun, how to make it engaging, and it also gives you instructions on the steps to effective Role-playing.

Now for a child to really integrate all of this into their being, it depends on your child, how many times you have to Role-play a situation. And in fact, with smaller children you don’t have to repeat doing it over and over and over again. But again, it’s part of integrating that into their new being so they can adopt these new behaviors. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Let me share just some examples of how it’s affected my life personally because this is a skill that I’ve used with my daughter since she was born. We would Role-play things. And what I found is it helped to decrease her feelings of anxiety towards things that were unknown. She was scheduled to give a talk, speak in church at a public speaking event. And she wasn’t sure exactly how to do that. She was probably about four years old, just to get up and share something in front of a congregation. And she was unsure. And because we had Role-played how to do things, she actually came to me and she said, “Dad, can we practice that? Can we Role-play that?” And I said, “Sure.” And so she just got up in our living room and she gave her speech and we watched and we talked about it and she said, “Okay, now I know what it kind of feels like to talk in front of people.” And then we worked on some things to help her calm down and work through it.

And then the day came when she had to speak in front of the congregation and she actually nailed it. It was pretty amazing if you ask me to see a young child being able to do that. I thought it was super impressive that other parents came up and they’re like, “Oh my goodness, your child is so well poised and is able to stand up and speak so well in front of the public.” Little did they know we actually worked out the kinks by Role-playing it and working through it. We did do a reverse Role-play during that process as well, so she could see what it’s like to be an audience member listening to someone giving her speech. So it was a really powerful thing for us as a family and something that we continue to do with her and that she continues to do whenever she comes up with something that may be challenging.

She has used that skill on her own. She auditioned for a play and she went through the audition. She Role-played it, Role-played it, Role-played it, and when the audition came up then she was ready and she got the part when she was in sixth grade. Yeah, sixth grade. She played in Hamlet. She was lady Hamlet. Oh sorry, Macbeth. She was lady Macbeth in a sixth grade production. Memorized all her lines, she had rehearsed them, but she knew how to practice in order to prepare for things that were coming up. And so that has been a useful skill for her. Right now she is a teenager, 16-year-old, and we are Role-playing how to interview for a job. So it’s a skill that you can use through various stages of your child’s life and the sooner you start, the better.

Now you may be wondering, “What do I do if my child refuses to Role-play with me?” This usually happens between the ages of maybe eight to 18. Let’s say roughly around there. Kids start to push more independence and they don’t want to Role-play. They don’t want to practice things. That is something that a parent is going to have to evaluate, “How do I engage with my child? How do I interact with them?” But that’s where the reverse Role-play is actually going to be super, super powerful for you. If you can Role-play, reverse Role-play with them and just give them examples of what it’s like for you as a parent, they actually are more able to grasp on to the concept of Role-playing and saying, “Okay, yeah, I’ll do this.”

The other part is reverse Role-play with a sense of humor. Do not make Role-playing super serious. You do want to have a degree of flexibility in your Role-play. So if your child goes off script, that’s okay. Just bring them back on script and you want to keep it playful. If you are able to be fun and engaging, what you’re doing is you’re creating a space where you can work. And the more space you create, the more you give permission to your child to move into that space. So if you are willing to be silly and willing to be funny and willing to just kind of roll with things as they go, what that does is it tells your child, “Okay, I can move into that space somewhere and that’s okay.” And it’s not going to be this strictly, I’m going to be me, you’re going to be you and blah blah blah.

This is super helpful for younger children as well. Now children are all ready predisposed to Role-playing when they’re young. Three, four or five-year-olds, Role-playing is a part of their life. That’s why they play mom and dad. They play house, they play doctor, they play a ton of games where they’re actually Role-playing. This is going to be super easy, but if you’re able to add some humor and engagement in there, the Role-play actually is more effective and actually lasts longer and it keeps the relationship building towards what it is you want to do and the outcome that you want to achieve.

I was working with a teenager who had ADHD and he really struggled with Role-playing with his mom. And in working with him, I’m going to call him M, he really, really struggled. About this time, he was getting ready to take his driver’s ed test. And so we actually worked on how to take the test to help him focus and how he could get a good score and we did practice tests and things like that. And he got his license. He was super happy about it. He thanked me. In talking to him about it, I said, “Okay, so what we did there was pretty much a Role-play.” And he’s like, “What?” And I said, “Yeah, we pretty much did a Role-play through that whole process. What we did is I showed you what the expectation was. I did it first so you could see what it was and then you practiced it. And we kept doing that until you were successful and you received your license.” And he said, “Wow, okay.” And so we worked through this idea that Role-playing was this really foreign idea, to making it something that actually he needed to do.

As an ADHD child he needed to learn how to successfully do tasks that he wanted to achieve and the only way that he could do them was by practicing, practicing, practicing, practicing. And then when things happen that would distract him, having him learn how to refocus. That all came through Role-playing, Role-playing. We then took it over to his mom. We talked about Role-playing. We Role-played actual behavioral things that were happening in the home on him following instructions specifically with taking a shower and with cleaning his room. I don’t know what it is about teenagers and taking showers, but it’s weird. It’s like for some reason their nose doesn’t work when they’re teenagers and you need to remind them to take showers. And I’m not saying this for my daughter, my daughter actually loves taking showers. And I’m saying this for teens in general that I’ve worked with, that has been a common issue where teenagers don’t take a shower and they need one.

We actually Role-played how he could follow those instructions and he was able to adopt those new ways of being into his regular life. S mom reported later that those were no longer issues she was dealing with. And so we moved on from these smaller issues to larger issues, which was attending school. So attending school, we worked on some behavioral things. The behavioral things we worked on were how he should respond when his friends ask him to cut class. What should he say? What should he do? We Role-played that. And mom was super great because during the Role-play she was acting like a teenager and it looked so silly and it was so kind of overdramatic. And yet during the process of the Role-play, he engaged with her and he had fun. And then he practiced it, and then she practiced it also being very, very serious. So she provided a gamut of different responses and ways for him to respond to his friends asking him to cut class and he was able to use them in each episode.

Now the reason that we did that and having mom do it in various ways and being serious and being funny and being silly, was so that he could really integrate that into his being. With an ADHD child, you’re going to want to do that. Do it various ways during the Role-play so they can really integrate what it is that they need to do in very specific situations. In the case of M super, super successful in his ability to Role-play.

Now I’ve also used Role-playing with couples. This is an interesting story of a couple that I worked with. I was called in Newark with this family with a lot of young children and the dad had ADHD and they really had a hard time communicating with each other. And so we actually Role-played how to communicate with each other. What was interesting in the reverse Role-play, that’s where the most of the magic happened for them. Because when the wife was behaving the way the husband behaved, when they were communicating, the husband had no idea that’s what he was doing. She would look away, she would get on her phone, she would be distracted, she would not make eye contact. I mean, she was Role-playing, the reverse Role-play, she was Role-playing exactly the way he responded.

And then began the discussion. We started to discuss and he was like, “I had no idea I’d do that.” And she’s like, “That’s what you do.” And so I asked, “Well, how do you feel when you’re communicating to your wife and she does that?” And he says, “I feel awful.” And so she’s like, “Exactly.” She’s like, “I keep telling you about, you just don’t get it.” And so during the Role-play a lot of emotions came out, a lot of feelings came out, and they were able to come to a consensus and realization of what they need to do to effectively communicate with each other through Role-playing. We also Role-played how to communicate effectively. And for them, we actually used a communication stick at first until they were able to grasp some of the concepts more fully.

And with dad, what we Role-played was how do I maintain focus and contact with my wife. We Role-played how he could do that. He came up with some solutions on how he could maintain some focus for a time. Mom also started to realize, “Okay, I cannot have super long conversations with my husband. I need to have shorter conversations that span a certain amount of time and then allow some break. And then if we needed to continue to talk, to have another short span of time to talk and not just have it. We’re going to just have this long conversation about something.” So the Role-playing actually opened up a lot of communication for this couple, which I think was fascinating and in turn helped them in dealing with their children because they disagreed on how they should discipline and work with their children.

Role-playing works with everybody. It works with adults, works with children, but specifically with children when we’re teaching them a skill, we want them to behave a certain way. We have to demonstrate it, we have to Role-play it with them, and they have to Role-play it well enough that they can do it on their own.

Now here are some suggestions with the Role-play, of course. Role-play at a time when it’s neutral and by neutral I mean at a time when your child is not distracted by too much. So you want to be able to do that when they’re not angry or upset, but when they’re relatively calm. You want to introduce, “Okay, we’re going to role play dah, dah, dah.” Following instructions or effective communication. Do it at a neutral time.

Second one, always reverse Role-play. You want to start off with a reverse Role-play demonstrating to your child what they have to do, what they need to do. That reverse Role-play is going to help them see exactly what they need to do and how they need to do that and they’ll get a feeling for it.

Tip number three, what you want to do is you want to Role-play often. So you want to Role-play in the morning, afternoon, and in the evening, the same skill if you possibly can. And that will help your child integrate this more into how they should behave and actually reminds them and keeps it in remembrance for them. So those are some tips that I think will be super helpful for you and for your child. And remember, Role-playing does take some time to do, so you want to set aside some time to do it and to do it well. Really, I highly recommend you watch this skill video on the Smarter Parenting website. It gives you instruction, it gives you ideas, it gives you the steps. So jump over to the Smarter Parenting website to see that.

Again, we want to thank our sponsor, the Utah Youth Village for helping us with this podcast and also the Teaching-Family Model which is what we use here in order to teach these behavioral skills. They all come from the Teaching-Family Model. That’s it for me for this week and I will see you again next week. We’re going to pick up another skill and talk about just how to integrate that into what you’re doing. And for those of you who are receiving coaching or want to receive coaching, thank you for reaching out to us. If you haven’t, sign up with us because we definitely want to reach out and help you out if we possibly can. This is a great opportunity for us to communicate back to you. Take care and I will see you again later. All right. Bye-bye.

The Teaching-Family Model

Our Teaching-Family Model Family

The Teaching-Family Association

Behavior skills of the Teaching-Family Model

Behavior skills: Role-playing

Free 15-minute ADHD coaching mini-session

Blog post: Role-playing for child’s development

Blog post: How to make Role-play less awkward

Blog post: How I incorporate Role-playing into my teaching at home

Blog post: 10 ways to make Role-plays fun


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Podcast Transcript

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