Handling Big Emotions with RolePlaying

Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Through Play

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how challenging discipline situations can be met with play. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Handling Big Emotions with Role Playing

Handling Big Emotions with Role Playing

The Sordid Tale of Mr. NiceSnake and MeanPinkKangaroo

Remember that activity that your child begged to be enrolled in? The expensive one with the expensive gear? The non-refundable one? The one you feel is important for them to attend?

The one that you are, yet again, sitting outside of in your car with a melting down child who refuses to go in?

Being the patient, attached parent you are means you have already listened and connected with your child’s needs. You have gently gone through everything and you think you’ve worked out and through all of the reasons your child doesn’t want to go.

Being the together, self-aware person you are means you’ve already worked through your own attachments to the investment in time, money, and future happiness for the class. So, you can support your child to go in.

And you know that if they would just go inside, they would enjoy it. All of these big emotions will have been forgotten, if you can just find a way to diffuse everything and compassionately help them go inside.

But, they’re not budging. And the loud noise in the enclosed car is burning a hole through the thickest of patient parent veneers.

It’s either yell and coerce or forget the whole thing. Neither of which bring resolution and may very well bring on the inevitable second wave tantrum-including a wail of, “but I wanted to go to class! Waaaa!”

There may be a third option, but it takes a lot as a parent to find in this situation: Play. Especially role-playing will help a child project their big emotions onto the skit you create and away from themselves. Unlike distraction, which has merit at times, playing can actually help a child to understand and resolve their feelings. And it certainly diffuses the parent’s tension almost immediately.

I have two characters who argue about what my sons can and can’t do. Originally, I grabbed two random toys that were at the top of the pile rolling around on the floor of the backseat along with the desiccated apples and stale bunny crackers. But, they worked so well, that we’ve stuck with them. Now, the kids ask me for Mr. NiceSnake and MeanPinkKangaroo whenever they’re going through a tough time.

Mr. NiceSnake believes in my sons. He wholeheartedly, unconditionally thinks my sons are capable of doing anything they set their minds to. He repeatedly says so. No matter what anyone else says, he’s got their back. He’s very matter-of-fact about it, too. He’s rather boring.

The other character is MeanPinkKangaroo. She doesn’t think my sons can do aaannnnyyythththiiiinnnggg. She thinks they should give up because they caaaaan’t! She’s bossy, irritating, and will argue forever. She’s rather annoying.

Mr. NiceSnake and MeanPinkKangaroo argue about what my sons can and can’t do.

The moment the two start arguing (“He can go in.” “Nooooo, he caaaaaann’t!!!! He can’t do annnyyyyththththiiinnnggg!!!!”), there’s silence from the carseats. The temper tantrum has disappeared. As long as I pretend to be completely engrossed in manipulating my two characters, it stays that way. If I turn my focus back to my kids, the spell is broken and the tension returns.

Before long, the laughter starts in the back. They call out things for MeanPinkKangaroo to say or they support Mr. NiceSnake, especially when they get to side with him and defend their brother. MeanPinkKangaroo gets more over- the-top and Mr. NiceSnake keeps calmly responding with unconditional affirmations.

I underplay Mr. NiceSnake to better result. It seems to be powerful for them to hear the repetition and that he’s unflappable in his support. MeanPinkKangaroo, however, is completely exaggerated. Every word is emphasized, drawn out in the whiniest of whines I can muster.

Honestly, I grabbed the toys and started acting out their argument because of my inner MeanPinkKangaroo who was about to yell in frustration for real at my sons. The moment I channeled it all into MeanPinkKangaroo, I felt better. And I was surprised because I thought they would want more from Mr. NiceSnake, but they love MeanPinkKangaroo. I think it’s because she says all the things they are feeling, but are overwhelmed by. Observing Mr. NiceSnake respond without getting riled up about it must feel reassuring, especially when MeanPinkKangaroo says out loud all the big emotions they’re experiencing.

Eventually, my kids will probably ask to go inside to the activity. But, I know that even if they don’t this time, we’re one step closer to getting there another time. I’ve supported them to work through feelings that had swallowed them whole. Most importantly, they have handled the emotions themselves.

And secretly, I think Mr. NiceSnake and MeanPinkKangaroo may be shacking up with the desiccated apples and stale bunny crackers under the driver’s seat

image source courtesy: Psychology Today



Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

44 thoughts on “Handling Big Emotions with RolePlaying

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  10. of course your post is briliant. I love it. I sure know that moment of digging deep and playing when I just want to tighten and swear. you’ve given me something more concrete to try though and that is absolutely appreciated. big hugs to you!!

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  12. I love this! You’re such a great parenting example to me. I’m going to have to store this in my bag of parenting tricks. I have really tried to implement some of those playful parenting techniques from the book I won from you, and it’s amazing how well they work (when I’m able to be clear-headed enough to take a breath and use them, that is).

  13. I am totally cracking up over this but at the same time am blown way at your creativity!!!!! Tiny is too young for this to be effective but I am printing this out and putting it into my parenting file! You are such a wonderful mama Zoie!!!!

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  15. This is wonderful. I hope, wish and pray I can grow into a wise Mama like you. I’m going to be looking at my kids toys in a new way now figuring out the likely candidates for Mr’s mean and nice when the time arises! Great inspiration as always

    • Thank you, Teri. Mr NiceSnake is currently missing & MeanPinkKangaroo is currently mummified (homeschool unit on Ancient Egypt) so I’m also looking at toys for possible candidates. I’m thinking of asking the kids to nominate a new pair.

  16. Oh WOW. This is a total revelation for me! I think this would help TONS in my relationship with my little girl. . . helping her to handle her big emotions and keep me from letting myself get sucked into arguing with her. Thank you! Now. . . off to find a Mr. Nice Snake and Mean Pink Kangaroo. . . 😉

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  18. This really is genius. I love how it’s a different way to diffuse a tantrum by facing it rather than using distraction. Another trick to try with my kids. I’m so excited. I can’t wait to see Baby T’s face when I try this with him.

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  20. Wow, that sounds like an incredibly powerful and empowering game. I am nothing short of totally impressed! Finding ways to help kids sort through emotions seems to be at the heart of responsive parenting. The way you do this through play is beautiful. I’ve used role playing with my toddler before, but never quite like this. I will be sure to add it to my repertoire when the time arises…and you know it will!

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  23. Oh, Zoie, your post had me cracking up. It’s so interesting that you were getting out your frustrations as MeanPinkKangaroo — and in the meantime, your persistence in playing the Mr. NiceSnake character showed that you had that in you all along. I just like that reassuring thought for myself: that no matter how frustrated I’m feeling, the person who’s got my kids’ backs is there, too, and I need play to help me let it out.

    I want to try this technique on Mikko, too, because when you were describing the meltdowns before an activity? Um, yeah. Been there!

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  28. I have never tried acting out emotions with toys (at least, I can’t come up with an example at the moment), but I love your scenario here. I am pretty sure Kieran is at an age where he would benefit from this type of play therapy – especially when it comes to normal preschooler frustrations (getting dressed, etc.). TY for the excellent suggestion!

  29. Another fantastic post, Zoie!

    I shy away from role-playing because it feels really, really stupid, quite frankly. But then, there are so many things I do as a parent that feel stupid, why should I shy away from that one? (And I have a suspicion that the reason it feels stupid is because it gets to the heart of the emotions we’re feeling and that’s just uncomfortable.)

    But are you sure it’s more effective than losing it and yelling? Because I’m really adept at that technique. 😉

    Seriously, though, I think I might try this if I can stay calm long enough to think about it next time the whining begins.

    • Thank you, CJ! It was motivated to play because I was already feeling really stupid. I wanted to yell at my kids for their perfectly understandable emotions. I almost didn’t participate in the Carnival this month because I was embarrassed by my less than stellar parental feelings, but I’ve come to realize with the serious issues that openness is my way of becoming free of them. My anger is shameful to me (not other people’s) and I’m working very hard to relax those self-induced shame-claws. I wrote this in 20 minutes and sent it without thinking-or proofing (sorry, Lauren.) I felt like Dionna and Lauren would nix it if it were really horrid.

      If you do try this, please let me know what happens. I certainly test the yelling technique more often than I would like, too. Maybe we should go pro?

  30. First of all, that is absolutely brilliant. I mean that. I’m going to have to start developing some characters for when my son reaches the age where negotiating in a meaningful way may work.

    Second, I nearly had coffee come out of my nose over the “shacking up” comment. I needed that this morning.

    Once again, I find a favorite post on your blog.

I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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