Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dramatic Results with Role-Play

Occasionally, we would role-play in different classes in high school and in college. I always just accepted it as a potentially valuable tool but most of the time it fell flat. I would inwardly roll my eyes when I knew it was an up-coming exercise. I much preferred auditory examples, stories, to aid in my assimilation of new materials.

That said, on my last wit's end this afternoon, I took a deep Mommy breath and mentally groaned (like when I have to clean vomit) as I facilitated a role-playing exercise between two of my children.

How did I get to that place? Well, since you asked...

John (11) and Hannah (4) have been at each other's throats for months. She picks at him and pushes his buttons. He flies off the handle and tries to parent her. She responds with high annoyance, girlie screeches and tattling. Then he hits her.

Well, no, he would say he technically didn't hit her because that would be wrong. Instead he kicked her, or pushed her, or held her down, or ruffled her hair in a roughly loving manner. I think he attended Asperger School of Law. So of course, I've learned to simply say, "Did you touch your sister inappropriately?"

Well, yes, that he did.

It was no different today. And frankly, we are all at the edges of our tempers. It's hard to feel sorry for the whiny little bully but you can't exactly feel bad for the huge guy using his size to control another person. As soon as one of us starts to get onto him he screams, runs away in panic, sometimes kicking and throwing and telling us horrible things about his sister. While we are trying to get rid of tattling in our house, we have to protect them from physically harming one another and let's face it, they aren't equally matched.

We've been praying. Others have been praying for us. I've been reading books to help with Hannah's issues, John's issues, sibling issues, my issues and so on. Nothing seems to have quite hit the nail on the head to get him to keep his hands off his sister long enough we can work through any issues whatsoever.

In exasperation, I lined their chairs up in a row facing my chair in our homeschool room. I usually do nothing quite that formal. I called them both in the room with an I-mean-business-Mama-roar. I decided I was going to ask them what we should do. They stared blankly at me and then started pointing fingers once again.

They were mean. I felt mean. I realized we've all been too mean for a while. I told them we were all going to be the nice police. We were going to help each other be nice. I thought I'd go through what they were supposed to do (ONCE AGAIN) instead of doing what I normally do which is to tell them what they aren't supposed to do.

I suddenly realized my stories and scenarios were going nowhere. They'd heard it all before. In a moment of inspiration (perhaps I should say desperation) I told John to go get his iPod. This is his most prized possession. I handed it to him and told Hannah to grab it out of his hand. His face turned red. He snarled at her. He kind of made a swipe at her.

Uh, whoa. He wasn't acting. I asked how he felt. He was shaking and said he was angry and sad. He knew it was pretend, but he felt the emotions nonetheless. I instructed her to hand it back. We talked the scenario through again and then tried it.

Hannah snatched the ipod. He was slightly more in control this time and looked to me for help. "Tell her, 'Hey, I was using that. Please give it back.'"as I modeled a calm tone. He did.

But I told her to say, "No! NEVER!" I could see the panic welling in his eyes.

Then I said, "Now, here is where you come to me and say, 'Mom' and wait for me to look at you. Then you say, 'I need help with a situation.'" After all this time, I stumbled onto a way for the kids to tell me they had a problem without tattling.

I came up to them and noticed Hannah was clutching the iPod tightly to her chest. I looked at John and asked, "Does your situation involve the ipod?" He nodded. I looked at Hannah and said, "May I please have the ipod? Thank you, I will put it over here until we've decided what happens next. Now, do you want to work this out on your own or do you want me to supervise?"

John wanted supervision. Then I asked who had been using the ipod. They both answered they were. I told John, "Here's where you tell Hannah, it doesn't matter because neither one of us has it now." He did, but he immediately followed with, "Hannah, I only had ten minutes left on my movie. If you want to use it when I am done, you can."

I believe my jaw dropped. Hannah breathed, "For real?" in wonder.

We practiced a few more scenarios. John noted that even when I grabbed the dried-up, useless highlighter out of his hand he felt angry and upset. But when Hannah asked to see the ipod, he handed it over without any negative feelings.

I'm still processing how role-play affected him. I'm blown away how he was actually learning experientially through a process I had previously determined a frustration, at best.

About an hour later, John came up to me in the kitchen. He said, "Mom" and waited until I turned. I figured he was going to ask for more food. Instead he said he needed help with a situation, like it was something he'd been doing for years. "Tell me what's going on."

"Well, Hannah's sitting on my lap and doing all these little blah blah noises and its driving me nuts."

"That would drive me nuts too. You have every right to tell her that you'd love to have her sit on your lap but she is not welcome if she makes those sounds." I paused. She had been sitting on his lap and he hadn't tried to kill her? "Do you want her on your lap?"

"No. Not really."

"Oh, then you should tell her that you don't want her to sit on your lap right now."

He left. No fireworks. My jaw got quite the workout this afternoon.

When I speak his language, he catches on unbelievably fast. That's part of the frustration. He'll be back to his normal antics tomorrow and he will have to relearn his new conflict resolution skills. But that's okay. I have a new Aspergers vocabulary word.

Say it with me: Role-Play.

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