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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This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Lyndal

    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.


    1. Martine

      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. Aroha @ Colours of Sunset

    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.

    1. Martine

      Yes I think it would be pretty scary for a parent to witness that!

  3. Rachel from Redcliffe Style

    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

    1. Martine

      Thanks Rachel, I’d love to hear how it goes 🙂

  4. Eleise

    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.

    1. Martine

      Yes I have one or two ‘non verbal’ learners too….and definately a good way for them to understand the lessons.

  5. iSophie

    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.

    1. Martine

      We always assume they will do what we have ‘told them’, but I guess sometimes they do surprise us!

  6. Janet

    Great advice. I remember being horrified when my child opened the front door to a stranger despite all the talks we’d had!

    1. Martine

      Thanks Janet, another great example of kids doing things on instinct rather than relying on verbal instruction.

  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.

    1. Martine

      Thanks, and I guess it can be made into a game so as it can be fun too. Particularly for the little ones.

  8. Laney | Crash Test Mummy

    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!

    1. Martine

      Oh thanks Laney..I look forward to hearing how you go xx

  9. Kylie @ Shabby Sisters

    Great article!

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

    Thanks for the advice!

    1. Martine

      Ah yes…I thought some were water tight too!

  10. Lisa

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

    1. Martine

      Yes, and sometimes adults don’t always do as they say!

  11. Jane @ The Hesitant Housewife

    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.

    1. Martine

      Thanks Jane, I am glad you found it helpful

  12. SarahMac

    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!

  13. Trish

    Thanks Martine , you have really made me think about this especially strangers.

  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.

  15. Jo

    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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