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Does Role Playing Help Kids Learn Social Skills?

It would seem that acting out different social scenarios would be a great way to teach social skills. However, it’s not that simple. While a typically developing child can learn from role playing, most children who struggle socially can’t. They need something more.

Role playing can be a fun way to reinforce lessons about social skills, but it’s important to keep in mind that if it’s going to make a positive impact on your child, a discussion needs to take place about the focus of the role play. Before acting out a scenario with your child, you should first talk about…

  1. The social rule that’s being addressed. Your child should understand that the role play isn’t just a fun game, but is also meant to highlight a social skill that needs improvement. Does your child have a tendency to interrupt others mid-sentence? Does he lose his temper when things don’t go his way? Identify the problem beforehand, and make sure you communicate that problem to your child.
  2.  The reason for the social rule. It’s important that your child knows not only that he or she has broken a social rule, but why breaking that rule is a bad thing. Explain to him that his behavior could hurt the feelings of another child, be damaging to friendships, or cause others to lose interest in their conversations with him. Help your child to recognize the consequences that come with breaking a social rule, so that he will understand the importance of learning to uphold it.
  3. How to uphold the social rule. A child with a social skills deficit often needs to be directly taught about appropriate behavior in social situations. After it is clear what has been done wrong, discuss what could be done right in the future.

Once the rule has been taught, role play can be used to demonstrate the lesson in a variety of ways. You may ask your child to act out the proper way to react in a given situation. Or you may choose to act out the incorrect way to behave, and see if your child can identify what you did wrong. As long as you keep in mind that role play is not a substitute for directly teaching the lesson, it is a fun way to practice your child’s social skills and get the whole family involved!

About the author: Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. She is an expert in the field who is frequently sought after by institutions and therapists to provide training for working with these and other disorders. Isa also served as a guest expert on Nickelodeon’s ParentsConnect.com, and has been quoted by numerous top media such as Disney’s BabyZone.com, LoveToKnow.com, and Univision. She can be reached at 914.488.5282