I know that it might sound dumb, but there is a lot of power in doing roleplays. In fact, we try to do roleplays with our foster youth at least once a day. By doing this, we have been able to build good habits, teach valuable lessons, and avoid potential problems with our foster youth.
What is a Roleplay?
A roleplay is a simple exercise where you pretend you are in a certain situation and act out what you would like to do in that situation. Roleplays don’t have to be hard. In fact, they should actually be rather easy. There impact is huge when done regularly; they have the power of turning skills into habits.
How Do I do a Roleplay?
I want to start this section off by saying that we use Teaching Social Skills to Youth, by Tom Dowd and Jeff Tierney. If you want a step by step guide on how to effectively do a roleplay we highly recommend that you get this book. Teaching Social Skills to Youth, Second Edition
We often do roleplays in the evenings, when I’m home from work and Deb and I are both there to do them with our foster youth–if you have multiple youth–they go faster when you tag team the roleplay. We have done roleplays on our couch, at the kitchen table, and even in the car. It doesn’t really matter where you do them, what matters is that they happen. When we do roleplays, we identify a skill that we want to work on with our foster youth. For example, one of our foster boys was working on following instructions. This was a simple skill that he was developing, but we needed to break it down into simple steps and practice these steps. Again, I recommend the book, Teaching Social Skills to Youth. This book has tons of skills broken down into basic steps.
So, first we identified some basic steps from Teaching Social Skills to Youth, that he needed to complete when following instructions. The steps were: Eye Contact, Say Okay, Do the Task, and Check Back. So, during our role play, we practiced each of these steps. We worked on having eye contact while receiving instructions, and while checking back. We worked on saying “okay” to indicate that you have listened to the instructions. We practiced doing a simple task to indicate following instructions, and finally, we practiced checking back after the task was done.
What Is the Benefit of RolePlaying?
Roleplaying offers a safe, fun way to exercise the skills that many foster youth need to develop to become successful. With many of our youth, we have been able to really develop some powerful skills that will help them in school, home, and future jobs. From following instructions, to telling the truth. When you practice the skills through roleplays, your foster youth are able to turn the skills that you are practicing into powerful habits. Think about it, if you do 1 role play everyday for a year, that’s 365 roleplays. What skills could you turn into habits if you practiced them everyday? And, in reality, each practice should take less than 5 minutes.
It’s okay to create your own steps to a skill too. The skill, “Telling the truth,” is a skill that one of our foster youth came up with because he struggled with honesty. He came up with the steps on his own, I just helped him come up with situations to practice with and facilitated the roleplay. In fact, I still remember the steps that he came up with: 1 Eye Contact, 2 Realize that You Want to Lie, 3 Remember the Consequences of Lying (lost trust, loss of friendship, hurt feelings), and 4 Tell the Truth. He wasn’t perfect after that, but he was much better. Honesty became a habit, and he was able to build some strong relationships built on trust and honest.
So remember, if you are willing put in the effort now and roleplay skills with your foster youth, they will be much more likely to make better decisions in the moment when they can’t think as clearly. Good luck, and let us know if you have used roleplays and how they work for you.