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How can role playing help my child develop empathy?

Michele Borba
Psychology
Michael was a student of mine who had difficulty understanding anyone else’s feelings but his own. One day he hurt another student’s feelings with his teasing, but I just couldn’t get him to understand how sad he’d made the other child. I spotted a wire hanger on the floor, quickly bent it into a large circle shape and improvised: “Michael, stick your head through the hole and pretend you’re Stevie and feel just like Stevie feels. I’ll be Michael.”

I started the role play: “Stevie, your haircut makes you look dumb. How do you feel, Stevie?”

By making Michael switch places and pretend to be Stevie, he finally understood Stevie’s hurt. I used a wire hanger as a prop for Michael to use in role playing the other child’s point of view but there are other ideas:
  • You can help your younger child act out the other person’s perspective using puppets, dolls or even toy action figures.
  • As kids get older you can just say, “Switch places and take the other person’s side. How would you feel if you were in her place?” Just make sure you ask that question again and again!
  • You can also have your child actually sit in your seat. (“Sit here a minute, Honey. I’ve been sitting here for the last two hours waiting for you to come home. Sit here to help you understand how you think I was feeling.”)
The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries

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The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries

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