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Act it out - By Ruth Liew

Use drama and practice to get your kids to mind their Ps and Qs or handle emergency situations.

I REMEMBER my daughters, at ages eight and 10 years, decided to put up a play for their young friends in the neighbourhood. They prepared a puppet stage and gathered some props, including a real banana. Their audience comprised children aged three to six years. My girls got mixed reviews.

One four-year-old said: “I did not like the story.” Her slightly older sister was more diplomatic: “I like the story when Faith (my 10-year-old) came out and ate the banana!” My daughters have always enjoyed play-acting on topics ranging from shopping to eating at a restaurant.

Your child may have a habit that you wish to change. He complains that you nag him too much or he pays no attention when you remind him to do something. Children fare better when they get to “switch roles” in a family drama.

You could be your child and vice versa. My girls can do wonderful impersonations of their father and me. They sound just like us and pick up every nuance of our demeanour. Your child may find it funny to watch you play him too.

Ask your child to dramatise something he dislikes about you. Tell him you will try to improve if he will. Both parent and child can mutually encourage each other to change their unpleasant behaviours.

Now, have a little skit with your child around a table and two chairs. You eat the meal in the manner your child typically does. Be a bit dramatic. Your child can tell you what is wrong.

For good measure, you may put up your foot on the table or sit with your knees to your chest. Spit out your food or talk with your mouth full. When your child sees you imitating him, he will realise his misbehaviour.Or, given our multi-cultural society, how about having a theme dinner with the kids? Show them how to set the dining table according to different cuisines – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Western. The family can even dress up for the meals and pretend to entertain “guests”. Your children can get some practice in behaving their best.

For very young children, act out phone conversations to teach a child telephone etiquette.Allow children to answer calls only when they can speak clearly and politely. Use a real phone, not a toy phone, to practise.
Pretend to be grandmother, another parent at the office, a teacher or a friend. Let the child practise repeatedly.Then write down the phone numbers of people your child knows and loves. Let him learn to dial these people up (in pretence). Once he gets it right, praise him.

Even at a young age, your child should know how to use the phone for emergencies. A friend of mine in Tawau, Sabah, told me that her preteen boys had to call for an ambulance when their youngest brother had an epileptic fit while the maid was helpless.Dramatise a scenario in which the adult in charge has an accident or becomes ill. And only the child is present to get emergency aid. Talk about ways the child could handle the situation.But be certain not to frighten your child unduly. Children worry about things they are unfamiliar with, especially if you tell them that you are going to get hurt. With the phone unplugged, have the child practise dialling the numbers and providing proper emergency information to each number until she has mastered it. She should always say first: “This is an emergency. The address is....”

For older children, you can even include making long-distance calls. Using speed dials is easy for children but they still need to know how to press those buttons when they are in an emergency. Primary school children need to learn how to use the public phones when the school office is closed.With practice children will find it easier to cope and be confident about what to say and do when they are caught in different situations.

Ruth Liew is a child developmentalist, Montessori trainer and examiner. A mother of two teenage daughters, she is committed to supporting children’s rights.

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