Problem Solving through Role Play.

Have you ever had a child throw a tantrum about having their hair washed?

Or had a child who is scared whenever they walk past a fence because once a dog growled behind that fence?

Or had a child who doesn’t want to go on the swing because once they fell off.


As parents, we’ve all experienced that sometimes our children seem to have what we see as irrational fears… fear of hair washing, or walking past a fence etc. And depending on how much patience we have that day, we either handle it well, or not. Sometimes too, these situations keep repeating, and we may become frustrated – I mean, we all know kids need their hair washed from time to time, eh?


So how do you help your child to move through these times, to learn to push past it?


You and I know rationally, that hair needs to be washed, that because a dog barked once, doesn’t mean they always will, or that falling from a swing once means doesn’t mean that they’ll always fall off. However, a child, particularly a small one, doesn’t know this! They may believe that they will always fall off the swing and that the dog will always bark at them – which for a little person is a scary thought and can immobilise them!


Learning to problem solve is an important life skill to have, and it begins in early childhood. However, at this age children don’t have great skills at problems solving, and dealing with their emotions at the same time. A bit like us trying to cook dinner, supervise the homework being done and smiling, while you’re so tired you want to cry!


Telling children that’s it’s fine (the dog can’t get you/ you need clean hair) won’t work, as for them, it’s not fine. They need our support, until they can problem solve themselves.


I’ve found a way which has great success…..


At a ‘good time’ (ie not when you are attempting to wash their hair, or when you’re standing at the swing set), get their favourite teddy or doll and, while the child is nearby, strike up a pretend conversation with the teddy.


Pretend that teddy is whispering in your ear. “What’s that teddy, you don’t want to have your hair washed? More mumbling by teddy in to your ear. “Oh you don’t like it?”  More teddy whispers in your ear. “Ahh, so you’re scared of it?”


By this time, your child is probably watching this ‘conversation’. Turn to your child and say: “Oscar, teddy is scared of having his hair washed, what can he do?’ (or ‘What do you think we could do to help him?”)


It’s incredible the number of the times that the child will actually deliver a solution for the teddy – which you and I know is a possible solution for their own situation.


They may not be able to verbalise a solution for themselves, as they have a high emotional response to the issue, but to help teddy there isn’t the same emotional trigger.


This technique works well with children from about the age of 3 years.


Trial it this week, and let me know how you go!


Happy Role Playing!




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