Whether those words come from a babysitter, a teacher or the judgy lady in line behind you at the grocery store, they’re usually the last ones you want to hear about your kid.
Yes, for most parents, the thought of a dramatic child conjures nightmarish images of red-faced toddlers throwing temper tantrums in the middle of the produce section. But even if we just described your teary-eyed tyke to a tee, don’t worry! There’s another kind of dramatic that can be really good for you – and for your kids, too!
Drama Is an Emotional Exercise
We teach our young children things like letters and numbers to help give them a leg up in school, right? But how often do we teach them about their emotions? Probably not enough, considering that having high emotional intelligence can give your kids a leg up in just about every other area of their lives. The ability to understand emotions — both your own and those of others — can positively affect self-esteem, personal relationships, career success and overall happiness, to name just a few hugely important outcomes.
And because dramatic arts like acting are all about recreating emotions, they’re an ideal way to help kids pump up these all-important skills.
How? Think about it this way. Each time your children “play pretend,” they have to imagine how another person would think and feel, and then act accordingly. Like striking the confident pose of a superhero, or forgetting how to walk and talk like a baby, or adopting an oh-so-fancy accent and extended pinky finger to have tea with the queen. Although acting may just seem like a fun game to your kids, it’s also giving them amazing practice at understanding people and developing empathy.
Drama Is Easy to Explore at Every Age
Here are a bunch of fun acting activities you can do with your kids. Feel free to tweak them as needed to match your child’s interests and skill level.
- Funny Faces: One of the simplest ways to get started is to practice making faces for different emotions. Pick a feeling (surprised, mad, sad, deep-in-thought, or whatever you can dream up), then tell your little one to show you that face. Adorable!
- Dress Up: This one’s easy too. Just keep some costumes available for kids to use whenever the inspiration strikes. Up the fun factor by adding in wigs, masks, face paint or even you – joining your kids in dressing up and pretending together!
- Magic Rocks: In this game, kids start out curled up in silent balls on the ground, acting like rocks. Then someone calls out something for everyone to pretend to be (like “Be a butterfly!”), and all the rocks rise from the ground and run around acting like that thing before turning back into rocks. There are no limits to how many kids can play, or what they can turn into! As Daniel Tiger reminds us, “When you pretend, you can be anything.”
- Now It’s A…: This game requires a bag of props, which can be whatever random household stuff you feel like collecting. Someone pulls out a prop (like kitchen tongs), says something that it could be (e.g. “Now it’s a lobster’s claw!’), and shows everyone how to use it that way. Then the object moves to the next person, and they say something else it could be (“Now it’s tweezers for a giant!”). Keep going until everyone has had a turn, you can’t think of any more uses, or you’re ready to try the next prop.
- Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Imitating other people is a simple enough activity that babies can do it, yet it’s fun for older kids and adults too. Just sit or stand facing another person, then try to copycat his or her exact movements, like you’re looking in a mirror! Be sure to take turns being the leader, and increase the challenge by trying to reproduce not just movements, but also facial expressions, emotions, speech, bowling pin juggling, or whatever you want!
- Puppet Play: Use puppets to act out stories, like Katerina Kittycat in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood loves to do. Keep in mind that the characters don’t have to be “real” puppets – any stuffed animal, doll, sock, or object that you can pretend with will work!
- Your Own Play: Show your kids how fun it is not only to pretend, but also to perform by encouraging them to plan and act out their own plays at home. They can write an original story, recreate tales they already know like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or use scripts from children’s play books. Yep, those really exist! Bigger kids can take larger speaking parts (like Goldilocks), while tiny kids take non-speaking roles (like The Porridge). Some families even make traditions out of creating family play productions whenever they have large holiday gatherings. Maybe yours could too!
While teaching your kids about dramatic acting may not come as naturally as singing them the ABCs, once you try it, you’ll see that it’s just as easy…and just as important!