Role-Play Activities About Expressing Feelings

By Erica Loop
Mother hugging her young daughter.
Mother hugging her young daughter.

Expressing emotions in appropriate ways doesn't always come naturally to every child. If your child is struggling to show her feelings in acceptable ways, role playing activities can help her to identify and communicate a range of emotions. By taking on different roles, your child can explore a range of feelings and practice dealing with them under your guidance.

Re-enact an Emotional Scene

Reviewing previous emotion-filled scenes can help your child learn new ways of acting on her feelings, according to the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning at Vanderbilt University. Pick a recent situation during which your child didn't deal with his feelings appropriately. This gives your child the chance to go back, review his response and come up with a new plan of action. For example, his younger sister took his toy train and he responded by hitting her out of anger. Re-do this scene with you playing the role of the little sister. Ask your child to stop and think when you take the toy from him. Encourage him to use his words to express how he is feeling. If he can't verbalize what he's feeling, start him off with a prompt such as, "I know you are mad. Can you say why?" or "Here are some feelings words: mad, sad, angry. Can you pick a word to tell me how you feel?"

Praise Positives and Ignore Negatives

Role-playing activities don't always come out the way you expect. Choosing an ineffective or inappropriate way of expressing emotions during the course of the activity may happen. Instead of scrapping the play and starting over, use the negatives along with the positives as teachable moments. During this activity you can choose any scenario that you feel will help your child. The key part of this process is to actively praise the positive behaviors your child shows and ignore or move past the negatives. For example, your child uses her words to explain that she feels angry when the two of you act out a scene in which you won't give her a cookie before bedtime. When she makes the choice to talk out her feelings in an appropriate way, you can say something such as, "I really like how you used your words to tell me what upset you." If your child does make a poor choice and yells or stomps her foot during the role-play ask her to think about how her actions are making you feel, and then move on.

Show an Exciting Scene

Emotional expression doesn't always equal anger. Your child is learning how to express a range of feelings, both negative and positive. While he may have no difficulty showing you when he's happy, other positive emotions are more challenging to handle. Excitement can quickly go from glee to an intense expression. Stage an "excitement" role-play to help your child better handle this energy-packed emotion. Pick a scenario that is exciting to your child, such as getting a new toy, seeing a favorite friend or going to his favorite play space. For example, you pretend to give him the new remote-controlled car that he has been asking for. Ask him to act out how he should react. Tell him to think about what an appropriate response is. He may say "Thank you. I'm so happy to have my new toy" or "Yay!" and hug you.

Reverse Roles

By the time your child moves into the preschool years, she is developing the ability to empathize and understand that other people have feelings that are different from hers. Building this skill allows your child to better express her own emotions by taking the perspective of someone else. Set up a reverse role-play in which you act the role of the child who is struggling to express her emotions. For example, you play a child who is angry because her friend is using the crayons that she wants. Your child will play the role of the friend. You can use inappropriate methods of expressing emotion to help your child see how it feels to be on the receiving end. After the role-play is over, ask her how she felt when you -- as the other child -- yelled at her. Remind her that when she yells or doesn't use calm words, the other person feels like she did during the role-play.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.