Adult Led Role Play to Support Child Development

May 12, 2015 Published by

The most common type of role play can be considered to be ‘Child-directed’ or ‘free’ role play. The second type of roleplay is directed or Adult led roleplay. This gives adults the opportunity to guide children into learning something new or discussing a topic while being at the child’s level.



When an adult directs the role play, it can be used either as part of a normal syllabus or as a therapeutic tool for dealing with issues that have arisen for children within the setting.


Using role play as a preparatory tool for events that are imminent (e.g. trips) boosts confidence and helps children to understand what is expected of them and what they can expect during the event. This is particularly beneficial for children with any of the autistic spectrum symptoms, as they tend to respond well to routine and planning. With a ‘prevention is better than cure’ mentality, role play can be used to prepare children for new events and situations and help prevent unnecessary stress or behavioural problems.

As children develop they can take increasing control over the role play until the adult is merely there to raise a few questions at appropriate points to help the children think more carefully about the situation. This is not expected to be within the capability of many pre-school children, but it depends on the subject of the role play and the abilities of the individual children involved. Certainly, the adults involved should not feel pressured into contributing constantly to the role play if the children are exploring the issue appropriately on their own.

Social development is now widely recognised as a key component of early cognitive development and so tools such as role play, which encourage children to develop socially, should form an important part of any pre-school setting’s activity programme.



In a therapeutic setting, role play is immensely powerful, both as a tool to encourage communication in children who find it difficult to talk, and also to enable access to sensitive issues without the child feeling too exposed or vulnerable.


Issues such as bullying are often very effectively dealt with by role play both in a classroom setting and on a one-to-one basis. By encouraging children to think about how the characters are feeling in common situations, simple messages about bullying can be understood by children as young as 2 years old.

Again, using puppets or small ‘characters’ provides an additional layer of protection against the internalisation of negative feelings. Older children can act out a situation themselves, whereas pre-school children benefit most from having sensitive issues acted out in a simple display, with clear messages. Discussions about the situation and the feelings of the characters involved should continue throughout the activity, but young children may feel over-whelmed if they are required to direct role play about issues which they do not understand. Older pre-school children may benefit from suggesting what might happen next, as understanding the consequences of behaviour is another important attribute of social development.

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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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