The Role of Roleplay in Therapy

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Posted in: Multimedia, Podcast

Topics: Child + Adolescent Development, Healthy Living

If you’re a regular listener, you’ll know we often reference the benefits of roleplay games – from dress up to Dungeons & Dragons – for healthy child development. It can help kids better understand themselves, better understand others, and build self-confidence. Today, Gene and Khadijah explore roleplay through a more therapeutic lens. They are joined by special guests John Corbett, MD and Terrance Dolan, MD, two MGH/McLean Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Fellows (and lovers of roleplay games) to delve deeper into how it can be used in therapy and at home to support our kids’ mental health.

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Episode Transcript

SPEAKERS: Gene Beresin, MD, MA; Khadijah Booth Watkins, MD, MPH; Terrance Dolan, MD; John Corbett, MD.


Terrance Dolan  00:02

It gives the opportunity to practice looking at the world in a different way than you might naturally do so. But it also really gives the opportunity to explore both internally what who we might be, but also to try and create an image of what others might be or what we think.


Gene  00:27

Welcome back to shrinking it down mental health made simple. I’m Gene Beresin.

Khadijah  00:32

And I’m Khadijah Booth Watkins.

Gene  00:34

And we’re to child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Clay Center for young healthy minds at the Massachusetts General Hospital. And if you’re a regular listener, you’ll know I often referenced the benefits of casually playing and role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, for healthy child development. Well, today we’re going to explore roleplay through a more therapeutic lens.

Khadijah  00:57

Yeah, roleplay, pretend play, is not a new concept. Kids have been doing it since the beginning of time. Well, I mean, I say kids but, you know, we see kids young and old. And we also see adults engaging in in forms of roleplay through video games using avatars dressing up to attend conventions. But anyway, I digress. Today to help us talk about this, this topic and join us in this conversation as we explore the role of roleplay in therapy. We have two special guests. Joining us Terrence Dolan and John Corbett, both are child and adolescent psychiatry fellows here at the MGH McLean training program. Welcome to the show.

Terrance Dolan  01:33

Gene, Khadijah. Thank you for having us.

John Corbett  01:35

Yeah, thank you guys for having us.

Gene  01:37

So for those of you out there who may not know, these guys are both doctors. Yeah, they’re both they’re both doctors. And they both completed medical school and residency in general psychiatry. And they’re now working to be even more specialized in child and adolescent psychiatry. So this is the child and adolescent fellowship training program, we know that we need a lot more clinicians, will overall we need a lot more traveling, courageous, but especially like these two guys who were really passionate about child and adolescent psychiatry. So we’re really pleased to have you on the show.

Khadijah  02:16

So before we spring into our conversation about roleplay, in therapy, notice I use spring because the sun has finally shown up in Boston.

Gene  02:25

Don’t forget the Eclipse, I mean…

Khadijah  02:28

After the Eclipse and the nor’easter in April, by the way. But maybe maybe you guys can share a little bit about your background, what drew you to child psychiatry, and what interests about the topic that we’re going to talk about today? Who wants to start?

John Corbett  02:42

Terrance, you can go first.

Terrance Dolan  02:43

Sure, I think it’s nice that it’s spring outside of the sun came out only to go in hiding again, very briefly.  What drew me to psychiatry is, I’ve had a long interest in becoming a child and adolescent psychiatrist, it’s been a lifelong dream of mine. I had some, like really meaningful experiences during my own adolescence that really directed me in this move me in this direction. You know, it’s been, every every experience in the field has been deeply rewarding. You know, it’s something I feel really passionately about. I’m really excited about just being in this program, learning and being able to give back. Regarding role playing games, I started playing role playing games. Goodness, maybe he was on stage and musicals when I was in third grade. But that ultimately, formal role playing games in high school when I joined the Dungeons and Dragons group and never stopped crying. John, what about you?

John Corbett  03:43

Yeah, um, so in terms of psychiatry, I got drawn into psychiatry during my medical school. We had a rotation in their third year when we go off to different hospitals and be on different services. And I remember the first weekend psychiatry and then calling my mom and being like, this is so cool, I get to like talk to somebody about what they’re feeling. And like it was so enamored with it. And I’m always kind of surprised. But kind of that interest grew and grew. And I eventually applied for psychiatry, and did my training at Dartmouth for adult general adult training. And then one of the things that fascinates me about psychiatry as a field is that it’s very narrative base that we tend to think about a person as a, you know, a whole person and how they interact with the world around them. In that, you know, everyone kind of has their own story that they’re developing in their head as they’re moving about life. And so we get to help somebody kind of think about their story and where they want it to go. So, in terms of role playing games, I remember pretty vividly in high school my friend was running a Dungeons and Dragons game and invited my brother and I, and at the time I don’t think dungeon dragons was all that Popular and I remember asking my brother, we this nerdy, like kind of just like wondering ourselves if we’re gonna do this. And we did it. And it was the best decision we ever made as a pair and was so much fun. And I continued doing role playing games ever since.

Khadijah  05:17

Oh, that’s awesome. And we are so lucky to have you training here with us. It’s a privilege and have you here on the podcast today. So maybe we could start off with defining what roleplay means in the context of therapy. I mean, what does that exactly mean?

John Corbett  05:34

Like, it can mean a lot of different things, I think, and ask, like, we think about role playing in a lot of different areas. I think we could think about it like acting like if someone was going to be adopting a persona to then portray something on television or in a on a musical or a play. So that we can consider that to be role playing, we can consider role playing to be like when somebody is trying, wanting to have a conversation with another person about a situation and adopting a different role, like being used in a conversational sort of way. And then we also can use it, I mean, I’m gonna we’re gonna be talking a little bit more about this, coming up to in different therapy modalities, like family therapy, there are certain ways in which couples can adopt different roles and then roleplay together about a situation they’re experiencing. Yeah, that’s some of the things I’m thinking about at the moment.

Gene  06:33

So, in terms of therapy, I mean, there are these are all different models, and as you say, we’ll come to each of them in a little bit. But you know, Could you could you clarify, you know, how is role playing, you know, capturing a different person’s point of view, for clarification, seeing a conflict. Or walking in their other shoes. empathically to kind of get it right, and to empathize with them to kind of like feel their feelings. You know, things like that. I mean, so are those the kinds of therapeutic ways that role playing helps people understand themselves and each other?

Terrance Dolan  07:18

Broadly? Yes, I think, role playing in general, I think it’s one of those ideas that it’s hard to identify specifically, but you know it when you see it. But a core component of it would be to be able to step outside of oneself, and then temporarily, do something different, try something on, in a simple sense, almost like trying on clothes for size, stepping in a mirror and seeing how something looks different. So it’ll, it gives the opportunity to practice empathy, it gives the opportunity to practice looking at the world in a different way, than you might naturally do so. But it also really gives the opportunity to explore both internally what who we might be, but also, to try and create an image of what others might be or what we think others might be.

Gene  08:20

No, so I was just gonna say, so it generates a both understanding of yourself and understanding of somebody else in a deeper way.

Terrance Dolan  08:31


Khadijah  08:33

I love the analogy of kind of like trying on clothes for size, or, or even style for that matter. And the idea of kids being able to kind of be introspective, try things on, you know, as they develop their own kind of sense of identity, what they like, and they don’t like, and how this also changes over time, like what they may have felt like or enjoyed or personified in middle school might be different in high school, which also might be different than in college. So I love that idea about just kind of trying on and seeing how things fit and then sits with with you. Because it can be a lot of fun, but it is actually a productive act.

Gene  09:14

And you know, you know, the other thing is, is that kids of all ages want to be seen and want to be known whom they are, I mean, Adolescence is typically the period of time where, where, where young people are working on their identities, you know, and it’s, it’s a way of kind of expressing yourself, isn’t it?

John Corbett  09:37

Feel like we naturally kind of do that. Like I think one of the big, like, things to think about with in high school is when you have a certain band that you like, or certain stock clothes that you’d like that may persist for about a month or two, sometimes longer, but then sometimes it’s dropped like a bad habit and then it goes on to something else that that essentially is a way that we’re kind of role playing as well. Like we’re trying on a different kind of thing on for size and then seeing if we like it seeing what what parts we like what parts we don’t, the friend groups that we make through the things that we’re trying on. And then sometimes we change. And so that kind of putting things on taking things off is something that naturally kind of continues as we as we grow older.

Gene  10:19

So it’s kind of like experimentation, we’re experimenting with different with different ways of being and then finding out what, what seems to be the right combination for us.

John Corbett  10:29

Right? Because how would you know if you haven’t tried it on?

Terrance Dolan  10:33

Part of what makes this so much, such a great way to I think engage is that it’s, it’s fun. And it really gives us an opportunity to connect with each other. It’s different ways of seeing how we might interact. And then some of them will be positive and rewarding, and some of them may not work so well. And it’s a great learning experience.

Gene  10:58

And then when things don’t when things don’t work, they say, Well, you know, I guess you know, since you’re, you know, you’re listening to all the heavy metal, death metal, that you’re into kind of like negativity and destruction, and you know, like Ozzy Osbourne chopping off chickens heads and things like that. And then

Khadijah  11:17

Oh gosh, let’s, let’s keep it right, let’s keep it G, let’s keep it G rated G.

Gene  11:22

But you know, but but let’s see the, you know, let’s say, you know, the parent wants to try to understand like, why are they why are they doing that?

John Corbett  11:31

A lot of parents, like, if we take the example of somebody listening to like death metal or wearing like, like more goth clothing. Like, sometimes parents, I think, worry that their kid is going to start doing things that may negatively impact their health, like started using drugs or hanging out with friends that may be bad influences. And I think that the like, certainly there may be situations where someone is listening to those bands I’m trying to post and then does do things that negatively impact their health, but not always. And I think that as long as there’s like, open communication about “Hey, like, I’m okay with you, like engaging in these sorts of interests that you have, just make sure you’re doing it safely.” I think as long as there’s like an open communication and dialogue, I think it’s normal and natural for kids to be kind of doing this kind of exploration.

Khadijah  12:22

And I think what you the nail, you hit the nail on the head with the idea of open communication, because it’s about having conversations with your kids, it’s about not jumping to conclusions, or assumptions and asking questions, like I’ve noticed, you know, you change your style, because we don’t want to encourage parents to ignore changes, because we always say, you know, what are some potential signs that your child might be struggling and major changes in their behavior, their functioning, their even their friend group. And so we want to encourage a conversation about these changes, as opposed to jumping to conclusions and assumptions. So I think this is a great segue to dig a little deeper about how we do engage in roleplay in the therapeutic kind of realm, and and how do we do it and make it successful? For example, you know, is it a structured approach? Is it more of a casual approach? I think about a podcast that we had earlier, we talked about exposure therapy to help kids with phobias, you know, it’s roleplay, kind of more of a structured exposure. Like, is roleplay, more structured like CBT? Or is it more loose and flexible?

John Corbett  13:28

Yeah, I think, oh, so as a general kind of thing for role playing, I think it does kind of depend on the therapy modality that we’re using like that there are some there’s a type of family therapy, I remember, actually, and gave me an article, while I was interviewing here, for fellowship. And it was this very structured way of doing roleplay, where a one partner essentially writes a script about a situation when there was a conflict. And then they have the other partner kind of say, verbatim, what they interpreted the situation of what that person said. And then they essentially keep repeating it until it’s exactly perfect to what the person had gotten on their script. And then the other person does the same thing. They describe a situation and then have a script, and then they get it repeated until it’s exactly right. Then each person will recall a situation in the past where they there was a similar situation, but the other partner got it right, quote, unquote. And then each person then also brings up another script from something in their past, like related to like a family member, or like their parents or a friend when they were growing up, related with a similar kind of theme, and then has the other person roleplay that another person, like from that memory, so that’s a very structured way of doing like kind of roleplay within the family therapy setting. Sometimes it’s also just more organic? Like, we take a situation like let’s say a family comes in, and then they describe an argument that happened last week? It’s like, okay, well, let’s kind of replay out the argument right now. And then kind of see how each person remembers the situation. And sometimes it’s just clarifying, like, what each person said, and then how each person interpreted it. Because I think a lot of the route of family disorder is based on miscommunication. Like jumping to conclusions, like all the ways in which our brains kind of make links to things. So yeah, just those are a couple examples I can think of.

Gene  15:36

And what’s the role of the therapist, you know, when their role playing it out? Is there an active role of the therapist replace will say, Well, let’s take a timeout here and say, and see what’s going on? And are they getting it? Right. And so what do you do?

John Corbett  15:51

Yeah. So I mean, that’s kind of the beauty of roleplay is that it’s because in therapy setting, it’s a safe space. And it is a place to kind of explore the interactions that we have with other people and the ways we think about ourselves. And so when we’re doing role playing, we can take a timeout like: “Oh, that seems like a really impactful thing that just was said, or that happened. Let’s explore that, like, how did you, What did you feel like when that was said?” And then being able to take that pause. Because when families are interacting together, it can be hard sometimes to take that pause, and really think about how each person is interpreting a situation. And that’s kind of a nice thing about how we can use it in family therapy work.

Khadijah  16:31

What about in play therapy when you’re one on one with a with a kid? What would roleplay look like? And that kind of setting? Would it be? Again, kind of depending on the goals that you have with the child? So it may be flexible, maybe structured, maybe not structured? But what how does it look individually?

Terrance Dolan  16:50

For play therapy that I think entirely depends on the age of the child that we’re playing with. In many of our younger children play is how our patients communicate with us. So if we’re playing a game, we might be playing the teacher game, in which case, a child assumes the role of the teacher, and they may give the therapist different tasks to do. And if the tasks seem impossible for the therapist to do. That might be a communication of, I’m in school, and I feel the tasks that my teacher gives me feel impossible. It’s a way to connect, but it’s a way to communicate. And it’s a way to practice and work through. Whereas the therapist in that situation can now model, ah, I wasn’t able to do this task. And it’s okay. And I’m still good. And that, in that sense, watching and witnessing a trusted adult work through challenging and difficult experiences, by playing it out in a safe way, can be really meaningful for a young child.

Khadijah  17:58

So you switch roles, you could switch roles with the kid in the session, is that what?

Terrance Dolan  18:03

Absolutely, it’s all about flexibility, depending on what’s happening in the play.

John Corbett  18:08

So you guys are both role playing?

Terrance Dolan  18:10

Absolutely. Another way to do this is having a school aged children may be practicing how they might respond to schoolyard bullying. They say, well, well, what happened if this other student came up to you and said, “ABC”? The first option might be well, I’m going to slow them in the face. Okay, we could do this. What are our other options? Let’s pause. Let’s reverse it. Let’s try again. And then that way, we can think about different approaches for problem solving. But most importantly, the therapist allows the child to brainstorm it out, to practice their own conflict resolution, and their own problem solving skills to build those skills. It doesn’t quite work as well as therapists just gives the answer.

Khadijah  18:58

You said a buzzword, Gene is going to jump in on conflict resolution. Go Gene.

Gene  19:02

Well, in conflict resolution –

Khadijah  19:05

I saw his face light up.  I saw his face light up. Yes,

Gene  19:07

Yes. I actually was going to hone in on on cognitive behavior therapy, because I think that’s just for the folks out there. The model is, you know, there’s a trigger. Let’s say kids bullied. And then the thought is, I’m the worst person in the world. This believes actually, right. And then there’s an emotion, which might be sadness, or avoidance or anger. And then there’s, there’s a behavior which is running away, let’s say, and what the whole model is. You work on thoughts that are exaggerated, distorted, or most catastrophic. And imagine the devil on one shoulder to an angel and other And the devil says, you know, something like, you’re just a rotten, no good kid. And you know that nobody likes you. Then the angel says it What do you what do you mean? I, I’m nice, I’m friendly. I’m I don’t hurt anybody I don’t do what you’re doing is that the kind of thing that you might roleplay out with another kid and actually play devil an angel with them as kind of like taking one, two roles, and then maybe switching those roles or what?

John Corbett  20:19

I think it highlights that whenever. Like, if there is a situation where there’s a lot of emotional turmoil. And there’s a decision that didn’t go the way that the kid was hoping for. Sometimes, like, there are usually very good reasons that someone makes a decision that they do. Like, we all base our decisions off of previous information. And sometimes with that information, it’s just, we didn’t have enough to know that this decision wouldn’t be great. And so I think by kind of taking a situation then looking: okay, what were the things that were pumped in that position? What were the things that like the angel, what was the angel saying that was influencing the decision? And then what are the things like following the situation that the devil kind of then says about it, like, oh, because this didn’t go your way, you’re a label of some kind, like you’re a bad person. But then in reality, when we actually kind of look at the beginning of the decision, that may not be the case, like I think we try to categorize like labels for ourselves in order to kind of make it simpler for us to think about ourselves like that, it’s hard to kind of have a duality, like that we’re kind of all multifaceted people. Sometimes our brain makes conclusions as like labeling ourselves, when that kind of stuff happens.

Gene  20:19

Yeah, I teach that to most of my patients. Not all of them, I teach them a whole bunch of things. But one of the things they always say is that, you know, when they get caught up in something like low self esteem, or, or I just can’t do this, or nobody’s going to like me, or it’s just something like, extremely, usually negative. And then they’ll say, well, the devil always wins when I do it. And then so what I say is, alright, let’s roleplay this, what do you want to be the devil of the angel. And then we actually spend, it’s no more than, like, 10 minutes, I want them to do like 10 minutes every day. But oftentimes, they get stuck because their belief system. I mean, what what Beck said is that is that is that negative thoughts are often about negative beliefs, or distorted or exaggerated beliefs about the past, present, or future, and they influence our emotions. And so what you really want to do, and there’s probably a grain of truth to it. Okay, so let’s say the kid has ADHD, and they interrupt a lot. And, and that’s annoying. And then the devil is saying, you know, you always interrupt, you know, you’re just so full of yourself, you know, like, why can’t you just like, go away? You know, and just shut up. And then the angel is going to say, Well, okay, I can try harder. But you know, sometimes I do have some pretty good things to say. So maybe we can kind of work something out where you can tell me to just zip it or something, you know, and then the devil says, You’ll never zip it. You’ll never zip it. No, ever we try to do that. You just get worse, the angel says, Well, I can really work on this. So you know, I mean, those are the kinds of things that sometimes it takes another person to be able to argue again, because the individual, the kid himself or herself, themselves gets stuck with the negative thoughts and beliefs. Do you do you find that?

John Corbett  23:46

Yeah, like, sometimes a really useful exercise with a kid is if they’re having like, some sort of negative belief about themselves, they they have this feeling about themselves, it’s very negative, like you can say, Hey, would you say that to your best friend? Like, would you say that they’re worthless? Or that they’re not lovable? Well, no. Like, they will usually usually will be able to say like, No, I think this person isn’t going for these reasons. But then why are you saying that about yourself? Like, who

Gene  24:14

And then you play the best friend and say, let’s play this out?

John Corbett  24:16

You could. Yeah, like, what would your best friend say to you in this situation? Like you can adopt the best friend or they could adopt the best friend and you adopt them? Like, you can kind of play with it a little bit.

Khadijah  24:27

Or even the idea of thinking about, you know, how would you think it would make your best friend feel to think that they’re dumb or stupid? And like helping them to understand the connection of, you know, our thoughts, our feelings, our behavior, I think it’s helpful to help motivate and engage them into the therapy. This is why we do the CBT. This is why we try to challenge these negative thoughts because it does impact how we feel and how and how we behave. So I think it could also help with the understanding. And the idea of also using real life scenarios to help them with their communication skills to help them with their ability to be able to kind of navigate some of these difficult social situations and advocate for themselves or negotiate can be really helpful and useful social skills that a lot of kids struggle with. And whether you roleplay in the terms of dress up, or whether you just kind of assume someone else’s kind of role, if you will, it can be incredibly helpful. And it can really serve to engage kids who maybe would not otherwise be engaged.

Terrance Dolan  25:32

Roleplay can be used to work through different challenges, depending on what we’re looking to do. If we’re school age, maybe we’re looking to build competence and the things that we’d like to achieve, where you really believe that we are the things that we do at that age. So getting in the practice of doing really fun things. And building that confidence of accomplishing tasks to roleplay can be wonderful. I think that’s part of the reason why so many school aged children like Minecraft, and Roblox. These are games in which they can step into a different role and get a lot of construction. And older adolescents might be exploring their identity. So a lot of these role playing games involve some kind of character create, yeah, and they get the opportunity to dress up that character and say, and pour a little bit of themselves into that character.

Gene  26:22

Well, you know, my three year old granddaughter, one of my grandkids, is dressed up, either as Mallanna, or as Ana. And, you know, they’re both, you know, incredible heroines. And usually what she’ll do is she’ll set up a situation, where the heroine kind of like, is victorious and does something terrific especial, and then she wants to be to be kind of like the, you know, the, the bad guy, you know, so that she can win. But I mean, even even in preschool kids, you know, who are doing it in a rudimentary way, especially with costume.

Khadijah  27:00

I think it’s also interesting to see how the characters change. Like, I think also about my son. And when he is on games, and online, or even his avatar, it used to be this colorful character was always muscular that the character still is always muscular, but maybe would have this crazy hair, red, green, orange, and it would just be so extravagant. And now I see his characters now look more, you know, poster him, still very muscular, which he’s a very fit kid, but he’s still sent. But it was, it’s interesting to see how it changes. You know, it’s like, he used to be almost like, you know, not a monster, but always was a nice looking avatar, but it was always like a character, and now his avatars look more like, you know, a kid.

Gene  27:42

Does he like the Hulk? I mean, the Hulk would be a good one

Khadijah  27:45

if he was to love the whole piece of watch the old whole series, like he’d watched the old ones where you could see the green come off, when he was actually a man, kind of sort of black and white look like?

Gene  27:56

So comic books, actually, you know, are really key for this. I mean, you know, I mean, don’t you think they’re there, you know, look at Batman. I mean, Batman, you know, is kind of this rich, elite guy who’s just like, turns into this different, different persona. So this transfer, that’s transformative, you know, means of like, playing something else. It’s very common in, in certainly in comic books, but also in a lot of films.

Khadijah  28:28

So is there anything else you think parents or teachers or any adult might want to know about? Using roleplay at play as a therapeutic tool, like anything that we haven’t covered that we probably should should cover? Because we did cover a lot, but maybe we missed something.

John Corbett  28:47

Like, on that kind of topic, role playing in and of itself is very playful, that you, it’s, it can be kind of fun to try on different roles for size. And I think that I think if a parent were going to be using role playing with their kid, sometimes if they noticed, their kid is having a bad day. Or they had a situation that didn’t go their way, like sometimes, like starting a conversation saying, hey, seems like you’re really upset. Do you want to talk about it? And then obviously, kids always want to talk about it initially, then they might want to talk about it later. But I think then if there’s an opportunity to have a conversation about a situation that didn’t go very well for them, like being able to say, Hey, do you want me to kind of lay the other person you tell me what to say what was said to you? Or maybe I can be you and you can, you can say what the other person was saying to you, like, allowing for kind of like, almost like creating a mini play of what had happened so that way, I think it helps when the kid kind of read look at it from a different perspective, but also the parents better understand what it happened to. Because I know there are times where I’m talking with a kid and we kind of an eye kind of asked them like, Hey, can you give me a play by play of this specific situation, and then we kind of start talking it out. And then I realized something very specific about what had happened that I wasn’t clued into before. So I think that’s a way that parents can use it. Right?

Terrance Dolan  30:14

I think one of the most important aspects when thinking about roleplay is the crucial aspect of the safety nets of this. It needs to be a safe space in order for roleplay. to happen. The metaphor that I that comes to my mind is that of an etch a sketch board, where we can do all kinds of interesting things on the edge get scored for roleplay. But if we don’t have the option, just to shake it up, and then try again, then, you know, it will be a lot harder to engage in a lot of that role playing a lot of that exploration that can allow the development of these skills. If a father and their child are practicing and interviewing skills, for a potential job interview that’s coming up for an adolescent, if the parent is not able to hold the mistakes, and then express what mistakes are, or say, I might have expressed myself to describe myself differently. This is how I might try to do it, as the way in which we communicate can either open up more opportunities for roleplay and allow for more roleplay to happen, or can shut it down. One of the big rules is improvisation is “Yes, and…” and not “No, but…” and that language goes a long way in allowing more opportunities and more ways for children to learn from experience.

Khadijah  31:41

And I think to make it even more simpler, and I think you hit that, again, the nail on the head. Is the idea of when you’re role playing or playing in general, what your kids it’s really important important to keep, like keep it a judgment free zone. And so we talk about this as we’re having conversations with our kids. And while we’re playing with our kids, because to your point, you know, when the kids since judgment and harsh criticism is the quickest way to shut down any form of communication or play. And so you want to be mindful of the words you choose the words you say, the tone of your voice, and your body language, like, why did you choose to wear X, Y, and Z? That sounds very judgmental and critical. Help me think about, like, – Help me understand what  your outfits about?” is a very different way than saying, Why did you choose to wear pink shoes and purple socks, or whatever it is. But I think the judgment is critical, because it’s important that we keep them creative and keep them wanting to share. And also, making sure that we’re modeling and as a parent, if things come out, like you said that maybe are upsetting or disturbing is really important for you to get a hold of your own emotions, get a hold of your own thoughts and feelings before you engage in response. So if you, again, think that maybe they did something that wasn’t great, or that you would have done differently, think about how you will communicate that to them in a way that’s constructive and productive.

Gene  33:07

As we always say, you know, it’s always good to start young. So if we start even in preschool, and continue that kind of ethos, that kind of atmosphere kind of style that you were just describing Khadija, as the kids grow up and develop, I think it keeps the home, you know, a safe place and an expectation that this is okay.

Khadijah  33:33

And loosen up and have fun. That’s what I would also say.

John Corbett  33:37

One of the analogies I’m thinking of, I think, I don’t remember where I heard this, but I thought it was pretty meaningful that, all of us each as humans are learning how to bake a human from scratch, that we’re all kind of trying to figure out our place in the world and how we want to present and I think when you know, being you know, when I’m seeing kids and like kind of thinking about my own childhood and the ways that I was kind of made mistakes, figure things out. That, you know, if a kid is like, let’s take that example of dressing very differently going to school, and maybe something is not quite appropriate. Like I think it can be easy for adults to forget like when they were in high school like if they were really crazy outfit one day to just try it on for size that I think it’s kind of a normal thing for kids to do every now and again. So I think being able to kind of take curious been kind of opening perspective and understanding a bit more weapons. It’s a bit more harsh, critical, judgmental, can be really helpful.

Khadijah  34:38

Well, this was awesome. Jane, do you want to wrap us up?

Gene  34:40

Yeah, I’ll wrap it up. So let’s talk about our own favorite games. Khadijah, do you have a favorite game?

Khadijah  34:51

So while I said don’t forget to have fun and loosen up. I’m not a traditional like loose person. So I don’t play a lot of games, but the game that I do I really love to play with with my kids or in my family. We do this around holidays. It’s Mario Kart. And so I love to pick my character pick my fast car. And so this is what I do loosen up and have fun. So I love Mario Kart, we love monopoly as well, it gets a little bit competitive. And so I have to remind myself, it’s just a game and model, you know, good behavior and be you know, use my use my good communication skills. So those would be my two, but I think my favorite is Mario Kart. How about you Gene?

Gene  35:32

Well, I, you know, the reason I like kind of roleplay games is that I don’t like thinking games. I don’t like games, we have to think because I think all the time. So charades is fun. And that’s role playing. We are we are kind of like people to guessing who you are. Actually, my favorite game is playing Frisbee with my dog. So how about you, John? What do you like?

John Corbett  36:02

Um, I think one of my fondest memories growing up that we would do these family trips over to Michigan. And the only way to get four kids in the car for 12 hours of driving to be mostly still was that we had a little seat like one of those backlit TVs sitting in the stand and my brothers and I would all play like Smash, Super Smash Brothers. That was I’m glad we didn’t get an accident because someone would have gotten burned by a TV. But that would have been bad. But lots of video games growing up with my brothers. And currently I’m running a Dungeon and Dragons campaign that’s horror based, without vampires and stuff. So that’s been kind of fun.

Khadijah  36:46

What about your parents?

Terrance Dolan  36:47

Yeah. So Dungeons and Dragons is, by far my favorite role playing game. I’ve got a group going since high school that is still going to this day, we play online. So I’ve got I’m still still gaming in that group. And it’s been a lot of fun to have different members join us and folks kind of go off and branch off and start their own. So that Dungeons and Dragons continues to be my favorite. Another that I continue to return to is a video game.


That’s an odd as a video game role playing game where we can create a character and it’s a Star Wars game. So it’s lots of fun. It’s called the Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, where you get to decide whether you’re going to be a Jedi or a Sith Lord, you get to pick what’s special force powers and the color of your lightsaber is going to be and it’s lots and lots of fun to play.

Gene  37:45

So we have to wrap up. So Terrance and John, thanks so much for joining us today. It’s been great to have you on and this is really been cool and fun to talk about. And for those of you at home, we hope that our conversation will help you have yours. I’m Gene Beresin.

Khadijah  38:03

And I’m Khadijah Booth Watkins until next time.


Gene  38:14

Did I nail The Hulk or what?

Khadijah  38:18

My son used to watch the old original Hulk and I was like, How did you even find the original Hulk? He was so little!


TV Announcer  38:29

Dr. David Banner, physician scientist searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have…



Podcast music by Gene Beresin

Episode produced by Sara Rattigan

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Gene Beresin

Gene Beresin, Executive Director

Gene Beresin, MD, MA is executive director of The MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, and a staff child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is also...

To learn more about Gene, or to contact him directly, please see Our Team.

Khadijah Booth Watkins

Khadijah Booth Watkins, Associate Director

Khadijah Booth Watkins, MD, MPH, is associate director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and the Associate Director of the Child and...

To learn more about Khadijah, or to contact her directly, please see Our Team.