Notes on Articles by Mecca Burns (Emmett)

In new groups, or with younger children, theatre games and story ideas are often introduced by the drama therapist. We dramatize material drawn from the children’s imaginations, familiar stories, and real life events. Structure and behavioral boundaries provide the children with a sense of safety and allows for creative spontaneity (Burns).

Many parents are concerned about their child’s nonverbal communication and understanding of social cues. There are frequent opportunities in every session for a child to practice picking up nonverbal cues. For example, the drama therapists help group members determine whether a playmate is being playful or serious, whether they are being invited and encouraged to continue what they are doing, or whether the other child is expressing displeasure and wanting them to stop (Burns).

In every group, a fundamental principle is social reciprocity. A child may come in with a passion to enact something s/he has been looking forward to all week. S/he may then encounter another child who is equally enthusiastic about something completely different, and we will find a way to incorporate all of it into the session. The group members learn to stand up for their own ideas, and respect other people’s ideas. The drama activities provide a powerful incentive for children to manage conflict productively, and work together cooperatively. Every child contributes ideas into the mix, and then sees the ideas woven together into a coherent narrative (Burns).

In the field of psychology, there is virtually no controversy about the value of play for children-especially in today’s world. What better way to process the mountains of information children receive in a day? Through active, imaginative play they can use their muscles and their senses to organize and synthesize this information (Burns).

In our drama therapy program, we work with parents to develop a set of goals through which we will monitor the child’s progress throughout the year. Here are some examples of friendship skills that develop, broken down into more specific skill sets:

Turn Taking and Sharing Skills:

  • Share and take turns
  • Initiate and sustain back and forth play

Communication Skills:

  • Stand up for one’s own idea while still respecting others’ wishes
  • Express dislikes appropriately
  • Listen and respond to peers’ ideas
  • Maintain back-and-forth conversation
  • Listen and respond to peers’ ideas
  • Communicate and observe personal space boundaries

Emotional Awareness and Attunement Skills:

  • Recognize nonverbal indications of friendliness, boredom, annoyance, embarrassment, approval, etc.
  • Be able to apologize
  • Recognize bragging, tattling, and sarcasm
  • Offer comfort and empathy
  • Tolerate one’s own and others’ mistakes

Environmental and Community Awareness:

  • Negotiate rules together and stick with them
  • Differentiate between real and pretend
  • Handle transitions between activities. (Burns).

We close each session with a drama therapy tradition: the Magic Box. Together we bring an invisible container down from the ceiling, and in it we place all of the characters, objects, settings, feelings, and ideas that were played with during the session. This is a way of acknowledging and appreciating everyone’s contributions just by naming them one last time. Many ideas are hatched in the flurry and excitement of the group, so the Magic Box helps us to summarize and organize our thoughts, and tests our powers of recall- more work for the executive functions! Amazingly, we can reconstruct quite a lot together in just a minute or two. It is touching to watch a child’s face brighten when an idea or character that she introduced is recalled by another child (Burns).

Citation information:

Burns, Mecca A. “Drama Therapy: How It Works.” Family Compass, 8 Sept. 2015, Accessed 30 Aug. 2020.

Burns, Mecca A. “Social Competence and Drama Therapy: The Art and the Science.” Family Compass, 8 Sept. 2015, Accessed 30 Aug. 2020.

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