Puppet Play
6 December, 2023

Puppet Play and Emotions

Children have been playing with puppets and dolls for thousands of years. However, these games can be very useful in helping children to develop a degree of understanding and then control their emotions.

Puppet play and emotions

Puppet play is nothing complex. It essentially involves parents joining in their children’s games with pretend people or animals. Sometimes that can be once the child has already started playing such a game or the parent can introduce and start the game, inviting the child to join in.

On many occasions, that can be for no other purpose than having fun playing with the child. At other times, it can be carefully and gently used as an education tool for helping with your child’s development.

The basic concept of emotional development is to introduce into play certain situations where the emotions of the dolls or puppets can be explored to help your child’s comprehension of the sometimes-difficult world of their emotions.

Emotions and education

Dolls and puppets can be used to help your child to understand, name and eventually control many of the emotions they’ll be encountering on a daily basis. Some examples might include:

  • pretending the puppets are playing with a ball and then asking how one would feel if the other took the ball away. The child can then be asked what the upset puppet should do and coached into acceptable responses;
  • showing a puppet behaving ‘naughtily’ and then discussing with the child how another puppet should respond;
  • illustrating arguments and demonstrating how a good puppet should behave to bring things to a peaceful conclusion.

If a little imagination is used, the possibilities are almost endless. These scenarios will help children to put their own emotions into some sort of perspective – something that can only be useful in the growth of their personality and character.


However, there are a few points to keep in mind:

  • It’s important that not every game is used as a teaching opportunity. Children love getting parental attention and most of the games should be exclusively for fun. Even young children can often sense the difference between teaching and playing, so ensuring they don’t suspect they’re being involved in a lesson is important for future parental credibility in games;
  • some care is required to ensure that children aren’t, unintentionally, being taught negative concepts and emotional reactions through play that they might never have thought of for themselves. There is no easy answer to this and a lot will depend upon parental knowledge of their own child and judgement;
  • the games should always stay largely just that. The educational aspect needs to be a relatively minor component and a light touch should be maintained at all times. Generally speaking, subtlety rather than lecturing should be the preferred approach and ideally children should be guided towards their own conclusions rather than learning preferred responses by rote;
  • Play should be kept at a level commensurate with the child’s age. Most children under the age of around 3-4 are capable of understanding that things are good or bad and right or wrong. They typically take their values from parents and care providers but may be unable to handle complex evaluations of abstract emotions and responses.

As the child ages, slowly it will become possible to engage in more direct and not puppet play-orientated discussions relating to emotions. The age at which this transition starts to take place cannot be predicted and considerable variations are seen between individual children.

However, puppet play highlighting emotions is a good starting point for most younger children.

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