Cue Your Child to Try Drama – The Benefits May Surprise and Delight You Both

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If you have a child who loves to sing and dance or wear costumes, a child with a flair for the dramatic, then looking for a drama experience either at school or in your community may be at the top of your mind when planning the family activity schedule.

But if your child is a bit of a wallflower or even if your child has some learning challenges, you might also consider drama.

Marc Edson, executive director of Chico Theater Company in Chico, says, “I can see the change in a child’s self-esteem from the beginning to the end of a theater session. Kids who were once shy and very quiet are now self-confident and assured. Others who would barely speak or make eye contact are now strutting around the stage singing at the top of their lungs.”

Kate Elman-Wilcott runs a performing arts school in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, and has been teaching theater to young people for decades. She sees these benefits for all children, no matter the age of the child: “Learning to trust yourself, learning to work in a group, thinking on your feet, creative problem solving, and being able to present yourself in front of a crowd.”

art-115-drama2Empathy is a huge element of creative drama learning, because so much time is spent working on healthy group dynamics while learning to act. “The ability of a child to step into the character of someone other than themselves is transformative. It opens their eyes to see into other people and opens their minds to be empathetic with another person,” says Edson. High school drama teacher Jodie Schnurr agrees. “I tell potential students that drama helps them to ‘read’ other people, including their parents.”

You can find play-based drama classes for preschoolers and opportunities ranging from recreational to performance classes for children in grades elementary through high school. Claire Hanlon’s daughter started drama about age 6 in a non-profit drama program. Now she’s in junior high and performs at her school.

Hanlon cites many positives of her daughter’s continued involvement with drama, including a sense of accomplishment, a sense of belonging, an outlet for her daughter’s love of singing and performing, connecting with peers, and an avenue for stress release at the end of the school day.

Like all of us, Hanlon’s daughter thrives when she taps into her creative and expressive sides. Trish Harris understands why. Harris is founder and artistic director of Harris Studios, an arts center that promotes education and performance in Redding, California. “Music, drama and arts training are necessary for the holistic development of a student’s intellect, creative mind, and innermost self-expression,” says Harris. “Drama and artistic expression are keys to unlocking the inner voice of students who have incredible potential and insight but no outlet.”

Even if you have had no personal experience with drama or theater, be open to the idea. Schnurr has been teaching high school drama for 17 years and says her father’s appreciation for theater developed through watching his children participate. “My father was an athlete and had not been exposed to drama as a child. Through watching me and my sisters take part in productions, he came to understand that a lot of the skills were similar. Both drama and sport can be valuable and offer a mechanism for growth and development.”

Don’t let your child’s shyness deter you from encouraging them toward drama. “Shy kids are the observers with big ideas,” says Elman-Wilcott. “Imagine those big ideas being given a place where they can be shared and played with.”

Schnurr says drama offers an opportunity for kids to start where they are and grow at their own pace. She encourages potential students by letting them know that participating in drama may help them feel less shy – they will build confidence by finding their voice, and will feel more at ease through using their body physically. 

“The greatest gift that theater brings to children is to teach them that speaking in front of a large group is not the big scary thing that most people, including adults, think it is,” says Edson.

What if your child is very quirky or has a diagnosis like autism spectrum disorder? Elman-Wilcott has been working with children on the spectrum for over 20 years and has found that through drama these students have grown socially and increased their self-confidence. “In an environment where there is no right or wrong way to act, and the games are not elimination-based, they have the freedom to explore the give and take of peer relations. In a safe but structured space, they can try out ways of interacting that don’t lead to ridicule or judgment,” says Elman-Wilcott.

So no matter what your child’s personality or issues, consider drama as an activity to help boost confidence, creativity and empathy – skills that will prove beneficial throughout your child’s life.

Sue LeBreton
About Sue LeBreton

Sue LeBreton is a health and wellness writer. Her son started drama in preschool on the advice of his autism doctor and it has been a boon to his self- esteem. She won’t be surprised if he has his own talk show one day.

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