How well do you know your kids? The benefits of role playing

Do you think you have a pretty good idea of how your kids would react to certain situations? Do you always know how they respond to a dilemma, how they decide what choices to make?

We like to think that we know our kids better than anyone. And for the most part this is probably true. But at my sons swimming lesson this week, I was reminded just how little we can sometimes predict their behaviour. When we think we have told them things, explained what to do should certain situations arise and how to go about making the right choices, we can sometimes be reminded all too harshly, that their little brains are not always developed enough to be as predictable as we would assume.

It was safety week at swimming, so rather than their usual lesson of strokes, breathing and kicking, they would instead test out some of the phrases we had all recited to them in the past, to see how they could translate these to real life situations. So they sat all these eager little 3 year olds up on the side of the pool and spoke about playing with balls near water. The teacher threw a ball in and asked them what they would do. Every child jumped in the first time and tried to retrieve the ball. The lady next to me was particularly surprised at this. She told me they actually had a pool and that she had in fact had that conversation many times before, and believed that it had ‘sunk in’. After floundering and spluttering for a while as they tried in vain to get the ball that kept bobbing further away, the children were picked up by the teacher and asked again what they would do next time. They then repeated the scenario. This little boy took 4 turns of spluttering and floundering after a bobbing ball before he finally answered that it was not safe to go and get that ball and that he should instead get an adult. Once the kids did this they had to physically get out of the pool, walk over to the parent and ask them if they could retrieve their ball. “Wow”, said the mum next to me. “I am so utterly and completely shocked that he kept doing that. I have told him so many times about chasing balls into a pool or onto a road”.

It also reminded me of a segment I saw once where a group of kids who had been told about not going over to strangers cars etc were set up by the TV crew whilst playing in the park. The parents were watching via satellite as a man approached the children one by one. And one by one each child walked over to the car and sat in the boot of the station wagon waiting to see the litter of puppies promised to them by the ‘stranger’. Again the parents gasped in shock at how easily and unquestioningly their children followed the man. Again the parents repeated “I have told them so many times about not ever going with someone they don’t know alone. I cant believe they did that”.

So what is the best way to get these lessons more firmly cemented into their brains? Just as it happened at my sons swimming lesson, I believe the very best way is to actually role play these situations. Don’t just tell them about a ball near a road, actually let the ball go on the road. Make them sit and watch it as cars go past and even threaten to squash it. Make them turn to you and ask you to get it for them. Similarly tell your child you are a stranger knocking on a door and ask them to do what they would do should someone knock whilst you are in the shower. Or pretend to be someone who is telling your children they have lollies or puppies to show them. Give them the actual words to use and the steps to take, to enable them to make safe choices.

This I believe is the only way to really help our kids in situations they find themselves in that are beyond their natural realm of thinking, We can apply this idea of role playing and giving our kids the right words to use right throughout their childhood and even beyond. I know friends who have told their teenagers if they find themselves in situations they are not comfortable with to have a set of lines they can use. Things like “Mum just text me, I have to go home”. Or even just “I am not feeling great. I need to go home to bed.” Allow them to still save face in front of their friends and peers, but  allow them make the choices they feel are right.  It sounds easy and predictable to us, but for kids, it can certainly help if the words are rehearsed so that they come more easily when they are under pressure.

I know I am not the only person who has said to myself or others “I can’t believe he did that. I really didn’t think he would”, or “I’ve discussed that with him before, he knows that is not safe”.

Again we can’t go around predicting every predicament our kids will find themselves in, but I think it can certainly be helpful to give them the tools early on, to put the words we repeatedly nag at them, into real life situations.

Have you ever role played a situation with your kids?

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About Martine Oglethorpe

An educator, counsellor, speaker and mother to 5 boys. Passionate about helping families safely navigate their children through the online world. Realistic in her approach that successfully combines personal experience with professional work and research.

Comments

  1. that is a very interesting scenario that played out at swim school – i guess it would be easy to take for granted that the little tuckers are listening and must ‘get it’ but then instinct takes over.

    #teamIBOT
    Lyndal recently posted..the one where we learn about the new addition….!My Profile

    • Absolutely, we seem to take a lot for granted when it comes to our kids. It is important to check in every now and then to say how much they understand.

  2. Yikes!! This is really scary. If I was watching my son go to a strangers car and sit in the back I think I’d take us both home, lock the front door, and never go outside again! Great advice for the role playing.
    Aroha @ Colours of Sunset recently posted..Parental DecisionsMy Profile

  3. I haven’t done any role playing, I have spoken to death about what they should and shouldn’t do. Now I realise that isn’t enough. Off to do some role playing now. Rachel xx

    #TeamIBOT x
    Rachel from Redcliffe Style recently posted..8 Reasons the dog is my favourite child right nowMy Profile

  4. What a great blog post. I think I am definitely guilty of talking to kids rather than role playing. This is a really good message especially when you have a non verbal learning like my daughter.
    Eleise recently posted..Step Parenting is lonelyMy Profile

  5. You know what, now I have no idea how they would react. I assumed they would do all the right things, as they have been taught, but now I am wondering.

  6. Great advice. I remember being horrified when my child opened the front door to a stranger despite all the talks we’d had!
    Janet recently posted..Whatever Happened to Breaking Up Day?My Profile

  7. Wow, this is a really great post and has got me thinking. Mia is still only little but I am definitely going to keep this in mind as she gets older. Role-playing is such a good idea that I’m not sure I would ahve thought of before.
    Kylez @ A Study in Contradictions recently posted..Confessions of a New Mum – Guest Post by Housewife in HeelsMy Profile

  8. Wow Martine, that’s really powerful. I’m so glad I read this because I’m sure not everything sticks in those little minds, especially when we just tell them rather than show them. I am definitely going to put this into practice. My kids will be safer because I read this pos, thank you!
    Laney | Crash Test Mummy recently posted..The one where I crash. How Crash Safe are you?My Profile

  9. Great article!

    Will be going through a couple of ‘scenarios’ I thought we had water tight with boy wonders!

    Thanks for the advice!

  10. Role playing is such a great idea…especially if we normally teach kids they must do what adults say.

  11. Wow! Thank you for writing this. My daughter is only 2, but now I can see how important it will be to role play with her, to really make sure she understands and know how to react in dangerous situations.
    Jane @ The Hesitant Housewife recently posted..DiagnosisMy Profile

  12. Oh what great advice. It’s safety day at our swimming class tomorrow too. I wonder how that will go? So far I’ve subscribed to the “never trust a toddler” theory and just watched like a hawk but I’ll have to start developing her ability to cope and make good choices!
    SarahMac recently posted..Tag! I’m it!My Profile

  13. Thanks Martine , you have really made me think about this especially strangers.
    Trish recently posted..How are you travelling ?My Profile

  14. Yes I have and do with the teenager. I think it is a really useful technique. Not least of all because it is reassuring to the parent to know that your child has rehearsed a scenario and thought about possible outcomes – which is not normally a teenager’s natural inclination.
    Rachel @ The Kids Are All Right recently posted..Eating out with teenagersMy Profile

  15. Great eye opening article. I always wondered what my twins would do after talking with them about snakes. My hubby and I always tell them if they see a snake to come and tell us. When my girl was 2, we had the opportunity of seeing the outcome… She stood their crying and yelling. When we went to investigate, she had seen a snake, it was a baby olive tree python on our driveway. We were so proud of her. Other scenarios we use are standing still when an unknown dog comes toward them, or if they want to pat an I known dog, to ask etc. I am also a firm believer in protective behaviours, not just stranger danger, as it might not be the stranger at your door wanting to harm your child, but someone known to them. We are try to teach our twins, if they don’t feel comfortable, to tell the person to “stop it, I don’t like it” and walk/run away. Such a lot to teach little ones. :-/

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  1. [...] Role-play situations. Role-playing with the kids can help prepare them for dangerous or uncomfortable situations.  [...]

  2. [...] Role-play situations. Role-playing with the kids can help prepare them for dangerous or uncomfortable situations.  [...]

  3. […] real life we know that kids learn best from interaction and role playing. We know the lessons we learn from experience are far more beneficial than those we learn from […]

  4. […] they surprise us by doing something other than that which we thought they would do.  I think role playing, particularly for younger kids is another great way to help the messages sink in […]

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