One of our goals as parents, guardians, and teachers is to help develop our children socially and to imbue them with the confidence needed for social interaction. To some children social interaction can be a wearying task. We the parents and adults in the lives of shy children try our best to improve our shy one’s self-esteem, self-confidence, and social skills. We often turn to team sports, camps, drama classes and the like for that purpose, all with good reason. However, these kinds of efforts can be complemented through efforts closer to home. In fact, it is within our own playrooms that lessons in social interaction and self-confidence begin. Many kinds of play aid in bringing children out of their shell. One of these forms of play is puppetry.
Puppet play lets children engage in the art of storytelling and performance which is just as much a social skill as it is a creative skill. By telling a story through puppets a child can increase their comfort level in using their voice and having attention focused on them. In other words they increase their comfort level as a speaker but they can do this behind the safety of their puppets or puppet theatre. Also, as storytelling comes into so much of our social interaction (whether it is telling stories about our day, or relating something we read about, etc.), telling stories through puppets gives children a great way to practice this social skill as well.
One recommendation for getting a child interested in the storytelling aspect of puppets as well as to give them the initial confidence when foraying into this style of play is to get them a puppet set from a familiar story. You can often find puppet sets for retelling any number of classic fairytales or fables (such as Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, etc.). Beginning by retelling a familiar tale helps lift the pressure off of the child as to what to say or what happens next, giving them a safe way to practice storytelling and to gain confidence in speaking.
Once they feel more comfortable, the child can then use the same characters to tell new adventures and new stories using their own words and ideas. Generating original material is another social skill and sometimes a social stressor for children. Sometimes children fear social interaction for the reason that they simply might not know what to say, or their own words just don’t seem to come to them. Puppetry can give children a chance to practice telling their own stories as well as simple stream of consciousness speaking using words, thoughts and feelings that are entirely their own. This in turn can make speaking their own thoughts or ideas in a social context a little bit less daunting.
Of course, puppet play does not have to be solitary play. Puppet play by its very nature is social play including a speaker and an audience just like many other social interactions. Also puppet play allows for the inclusion of more than one puppeteer/speaker as well, making it a great option for play dates. With perhaps a little bit of adult guidance, even a shy child on a play date will find themselves vocal with their playmate through playing with puppets.
In many ways a puppet in the hands of a child can be a passport towards extroversion from introversion. Through puppetry, children can practice different personalities, different voices, and different approaches to social interaction as well as find their own unique voice. Through this safe form of social practice, children may find themselves feeling more confident and better prepared to speak when called upon to. Remember, we can support our little ones in this venture as well by joining in on the play and of course nothing helps build confidence more than an enthusiastic and receptive audience.