5 Ways Drama Games Can Boost Social-Emotional Skills

By Amanda Peclat-Begin

Theatre and drama are so much more than what we see on Broadway and in movies! The tenets of social and emotional learning overlap greatly with the tenets of drama and theatre. Integrating theatre games and drama into home life can help rehearse certain Arts Playschool topics and skills to your child!

1. Increasing Self-Awareness and Self-Concept

Drama can provide a platform for children to think creatively and explore lots of different experiences in a safe and contained environment. Allowing children this outlet gives them the space to take risks without fear of failure or making mistakes, learn, and boost their self-confidence. Children are often allowed to explore their emotions, identify and articulate these feelings, learn what affects them in certain situations, and understand themselves that much better.

One of the easier ways for children to become attuned with how they feel and how they react is through a feeling guessing games, simple enough as asking “Show me what it looks like.” Have them demonstrate how their faces look when they feel a certain way to hone in on being able to articulate their emotions. Encourage them to think beyond smiling when they are happy and frowning when they are sad, if they are able.

2. Empathy

At its core, drama is about emotions, emotional expression, and understanding these feelings and causes. Children a lot of the time know how these concepts relate to themselves, and as much as drama helps with building a child’s self-confidence and self-awareness, it can also begin to introduce them to empathizing with others. Just like games can help build an awareness of what the self is feeling, drama can help in expanding social awareness to understand what their friends, teachers, and parents are feeling, how they express these feelings, and how to identify these feelings in others.

Using a feelings guessing game and modifying it to where children have to identify how others are feeling based on their facial expressions and body language can be done here. Another way to introduce empathy is by having children act out a favorite story of theirs—maybe a book they have read so many times that they know, or have them act along as the story is being read out loud—and have them talk through how the character is feeling in the moment as well as showing it.

3. Teamwork and Cooperation

A lot of our younger kids only know and understand the world around them through their own personal world and experiences as they grow into themselves. Drama and theatre can begin introducing ways that children can work in teams to reach a solution together by practicing listening, understanding another person’s perspective, and integrating empathy as well!

Storytelling is the base of drama, and

can be a good way to introduce having to work together with their classmates. Have everyone sit in a circle and tell them that everyone is going to tell a story together one sentence at a time as they go around the circle. Everyone will need to take turns and listen to their friends in order to make sure the story is cohesive and makes sense by the time it reaches the end of the circle.

4. Conflict Resolution

Drama can help introduce conflictual relationships and scenarios to children in a safe and controlled environment. They can utilize several other social-emotional skills that they have learned to learn how to effectively communicate, listen, and work together with others to solve problems. Drama can safely introduce the idea of conflicts arising in your child’s life and show them how to effectively and creatively approach and transform conflicts as they come.

Puppetry is a great drama technique that can allow children the distance an ability to work through conflicts. You can have them create their puppets with popsicle sticks, brown paper lunch bags, or even socks and then have them set the stage for the interaction. Identify certain conflicts that you may want to have addressed, such as not sharing, name calling, or hitting when we don’t get our way, and encourage your children to identify key phrases to help resolve conflicts in a number of made-up scenarios. If your child is having some trouble, a character narrated by an adult can come in and help offer solutions and tactics.

5. Nonverbal Communication

There is so much more to our communication with others than just what we say with our mouths! For younger children especially, learning how to communicate effectively with their peers and with their teachers is essential for learning how to build relationships and their self-esteem. Drama can help teach other methods of communicating outside of the general verbal and facial expressions.

Games such as “Good Listener/Bad Listener” are good ways to introduce physicality and expressing things with our bodies. For the Listener game, have two children come up. One child will tell a story to he second child. The second child should demonstrate with a “good listener” looks like.

Once this scene is done, you can do it once more with the child representing what a “bad listener” looks like. This can spark discussion with the class about how we can communicate how we are thinking and feeling with our bodies just as much with the words we say.

Let us know if you tried any of these games at home or in the classroom and how they worked for you! Find us on Facebook @ArtsPlayschool.

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About the Author

Amanda Peclat-Begin is a current Masters student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Adler University in Chicago. She is also a Drama Therapy Student and Intern at the Center for Creative Arts Therapy. Amanda is a huge proponent of the healing power of narrative, play, and drama in a compassionate and empathetic environment while utilizing a social justice, culturally responsive, and trauma-informed approach with her clients. Amanda is an Arts Playschool instructor for the Downers Grove Programs.