When Drama Pays Off {Role Play to Ease Anxiety}


Each day our children are learning and growing, getting to interact with new people, places, and experiences. Some days my kids meet these new activities with open arms (Children’s Museum? yes, please!), but other times I find that I am negotiating with the most unwilling participant (Dentist Office? Why? Teeth fall out anyway!).

This past summer at a conference, I had the opportunity to attend a session for early childhood teachers that talked about the role of dramatic play in the classroom. I had no clue what I was in for, but the description gave me hope I might pick up some tips that I could implement that same day. I work with high school and adult students, so I’ll fully admit I went to the session in the hopes of learning some tricks I could implement as a parent, and I’m happy to say my strategy paid off.

Our workshop instructors introduced the idea of dramatic play, which essentially is giving children the opportunity to “act” through situations they will encounter in the real world. These opportunities allow students to see themselves in a variety of roles, experience new things from different perspectives, and often the scenarios allow kids to give you an inside look at what they’re thinking/feeling without them having to break it down for you.

The instructor asked if anyone could name a scenario that kids commonly have fear of. My hand shot straight up — the dentist office. At 4 years old, my son was still having to be held on my lap, knee to knee with the dentist, kicking, crying, and attempting to overpower me as soon as possible.

Our instructor provided the following suggestions to help create an opportunity for dramatic play at home or in the classroom. The suggestions included:

Reading Books about the Experience 

By reading books, children will get exposure to the experience through the lens of the characters. If you check the library you can usually find a few different versions. By reading you can help jump start conversations with your child about what the character was experiencing, how they felt, and the final outcome.

Role Play the Experience 

Get the whole family involved by letting your child pretend they are at the dentist office; walk through who will they interact with, what steps will be done while they are there, have them play the different roles – patient, doctor, hygienist, etc. When they play the role of dentist, listen to what they are saying. Are they caring? Are they a maniac with the drill? The way they role play may give you some insights as to what they think they will experience. Take the time to dialogue with them about their actions, then reverse the roles. Have them play the patient and provide them with a caring but realistic view of what they will encounter.

Let the Child take the Lead 

Our instructor shared that the best way to support children in dramatic play is by serving as a model or coach for your child. Help reinforce what they have read in books, help target the big words they might not know but can become familiar with (think Barista if you’re playing coffee shop), and provide plenty of positive recognition for participation.

With these tips and tricks over the last six month I have been consciously applying them to new scenarios we are experiencing to help my son learn about what to expect and overcome any anxiety he may face about new experiences. My son loves when we add in new books, and enjoys the role-playing, especially if he gets to involve his little brother in the situations. We’ve found lots of success implementing these strategies, even at the dentist office! At our most recent visit in January, my son actually sat in the chair by himself and made it through all of the x-rays, something we haven’t been able to do in any of his past visits.

Do your children have any new experiences coming up you might try using these strategies for? Or have you found other techniques that help you introduce new situation to your kids? Please comment below and share!!

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Katie and her husband have called North Phoenix home since 2009. Katie is fully embracing boy mom life, as the mother to an energetic 3 year old who is known to introduce himself by saying “Hi, my name is Colton, I have fast shoes.” Katie is also welcoming a brand new baby boy scheduled to make his arrival mid-April 2017. In her spare time you will find Katie searching out the best deals for anything and everything or trying out new apps, software, and products that will increase her efficiency so she has more time to partake in her favorite activities: relaxing with her boys, taking power naps, and learning new skills! As someone who loves school and plans to be a lifelong learner Katie received her Bachelor of Science in Individualized Studies: Business & Marketing Education from Central Washington University in 2008 and then continued her studies at the University of Arizona where she obtained her Master’s in Higher Education with an emphasis in Access & Success in 2010. While working at ITT Technical Institute Katie was able to earn her MBA in 2012. She is an educational professional with almost 10 years experience in Career and Technical Education and Higher Education. She is passionate about assisting individuals in gaining success through access to education and career opportunities.


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