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Children and Drama

by Beril Bayrak Bulucu, MD
Drama or theater is a very important factor for a child’s development. Drama is a major part of kids’ play and when they can do role play we understand that their emotional and social development is progressing well. Of course the use of role play or drama varies from child to child. Children with autistic spectrum disorders seem to have a problem with role play from the beginning. Many times pediatric professionals will use role play and advocate the use by parents. One of the most important therapy methods for children is play therapy and utilizes drama and role play to a great extent. How do children use drama? And how can we use it for them?

One is adjustment to a new situation. Change is a stressor for many kids. For some more than others. Drama or role play might be a  big helper for a child who needs to adjust to a new situation. E.g. The birth of a new baby. Or move to another city or country. Even a new house.

Drama is also very helpful for children to deal with stressful or painful situations. Organizations such as child life (in the US) help chronically ill children or children who are hospitalized for some reason to deal with the stress and physical pain associated with the illness. A large part of what they do is use of drama. Even when a child is going to receive an injection at the pediatric office, use of a “pretend needle” and use of pretend injection before or after the actual one helps the child deal with the pain and stress.

Drama can be used to teach children new concepts like birth, death, charity... It can be used to teach them empathy. By role play they can be in someone else’s shoes (like mom) and they can have a better perspective about how the other person feels.

Interestingly, studies show that parents who use more dramatic interaction with their children are more successful at teaching them new skills. Dramatic expressions make things more fun and `play-like` which in turn nurtures the child’s learning.
 
I think children do benefit from watching kids` plays. In addition to learning to sit in one seat for more than an hour they also learn from the dramatization on the stage in many ways. The plays that encourage kids` active participation are a lot more effective both for nurturing and for entertaining the little ones. Children are usually `active participators`. They are much less inhibited than adults. During their education process we want to capitalize on this characteristic and make them , “active learners”, “participators” rather than being passive audience. Of course it is a part of the education to show them when is the right time and when is not.

Taking part in a play is also an incredible activity for children 3 and up. (Actually drama can be used even for younger kids but in a more modified way. Drama helps them develop a self confidence, helps self expression, and helps their cognitive and social development. It gives them a perspective in understanding and relating to the world and other people. The depth of their perception is usually a lot more than what we think and drama is a nice tool to express and develop that.

I would recommend to parents to include drama in children’s lives. This can be done in many ways: from encouraging role play at home to using drama tools such as dramatic expressions during your interactions with your child. From taking drama lessons to watching plays on the weekends. Encouraging kids to create a play when they get together might not only improve their imagination and social experience but also keep them from playing Nintendo or watching TV.
 


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