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Children Roleplaying

The Power of Roleplaying in Children

(Below is a manuscript snippet that was cut from my second book, “10,000 Hours of Play.” If you like this post, you’ll love my book.)

Our Identity Role is a set of beliefs about ourselves that significantly influences our behavior across various environments. This concept holds true even in the realm of fictional roleplay. A personal anecdote involving my young children illustrates this phenomenon vividly. When I ask them to stand still for as long as possible, like most children, they struggle with the task and begin fidgeting almost immediately. However, the scenario transforms remarkably when I introduce the concept of roleplaying.

By saying, “Imagine you’re a soldier guarding the queen’s palace. You must stand very still and be extremely alert in this honorable role,” I do more than assign them a task or a simple occupation; I bestow upon them an Identity Role. Suddenly, they are no longer just children attempting to stand still; their imagination allows them to embody honorable guards dedicated to serving the royal highness. In this role, they can maintain stillness for significantly longer periods. This demonstrates the profound power of identity in shaping behavior. Beyond assuming the occupation role of a palace guard, my children adopt a new identity role, complete with a set of values about themselves. This playfulness possesses a magical quality that enables children (and adults) to experiment with different personas without the pressure of a high-stakes situation.

Identity roles influence behavior by embedding within individuals a sense of purpose and meaning that transcends the immediate task. When my children imagine themselves as palace guards, they internalize the values and responsibilities associated with that role. This mental shift is not merely about following instructions; it involves a deeper transformation where the children’s self-conception aligns with the identity of a dedicated, vigilant guard. This alignment brings about a change in behavior that is more sustainable and impactful than mere compliance.

The concept of identity roles extends beyond childhood play into various aspects of adult life. In professional settings, for example, individuals who see themselves as leaders or innovators are likely to exhibit behaviors consistent with those roles. They are more inclined to take initiative, embrace challenges, and persist in the face of obstacles. Similarly, in personal relationships, individuals who perceive themselves as supportive partners or nurturing parents are more likely to engage in behaviors that reinforce those identities.

Roleplay and the adoption of identity roles can be powerful tools in educational and therapeutic contexts as well. Educators can leverage identity roles to enhance student engagement and learning outcomes. By encouraging students to adopt the roles of scientists, explorers, or historical figures, teachers can foster a deeper connection to the subject matter and inspire more active participation. In therapy, role-playing different identities can help individuals explore new ways of thinking and behaving, leading to personal growth and improved mental health.

In conclusion, identity roles play a crucial role in shaping behavior by providing individuals with a framework of beliefs and values that guide their actions. Whether in childhood play, professional environments, or personal relationships, the adoption of a meaningful identity role can lead to more positive and sustained behavioral changes. By understanding and harnessing the power of identity roles, we can unlock new potentials for growth, learning, and personal development.

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