Puppet play: why it’s good for children
Puppet play is a fun way for your child to explore strong feelings and learn good ways to manage them.
Strong emotions like frustration and jealousy can be hard for your child to understand and talk about. Exploring and expressing these strong emotions through the character of a puppet can help your child learn how to manage emotions.
Puppet play can be a fun creative activity too, when you and your child make your own puppets.
If your child has difficulty speaking or socialising, is autistic, or has disability or other additional needs, puppet play can help your child express their needs and wants more easily.
What you need for puppet play
You can use any puppet or soft toy for a puppet play activity. You can even make your own.
Try these ideas for making your own puppets:
- Make a puppet out of an old sock, stocking or paddle-pop stick. For example, sew or glue on buttons for eyes and wool for hair. Or just use coloured markers to draw a face on an old white sock.
- Decorate paper bags or envelopes that can fit over your hand or your child’s hand. Your child could draw the faces for the puppets, or you could cut out faces from magazines or print pictures for your child to paste.
- Make different puppets for different emotions like happiness, anger, frustration and jealousy.
How to use puppet play to help children learn about emotions
- Follow your child’s lead. Your child will probably enjoy playing with toys and puppets, and be happy when you join in the play.
- Introduce emotions as part of your child’s play. For example, if your child is pretending the puppets are all dancing together, you could introduce jealousy by pretending that your puppet is jealous of how well another puppet can dance.
- Talk with your child about what’s happening and encourage your child to name the emotion. Then ask your child what they think everyone should do next.
- If your child makes a puppet do something inappropriate like hitting, point out the difference between the emotion and the behaviour. For example, ‘It’s OK for the puppet to be jealous, but it’s not OK to hit. What else could the puppet do?’
- Talk about times that you’ve felt jealousy or another strong emotion, and ask your child whether they can remember feeling like that too. This helps your child understand that it’s normal to have strong feelings.
A simple message for the puppets and your child could be ‘All feelings are OK, but not all behaviour is OK’. Puppet play is a great chance for your child to practise some healthy ways to express and manage strong emotions.
Adapting puppet play for children of different ages or children with diverse abilities
Your younger child might find strong emotions upsetting, even in puppets. For example, your child might get upset if one of the puppets is really angry and is shouting. Tune in to your child and reassure them if you need to. Stop playing the game if it’s not fun for your child.
Your older child might enjoy making up a simple story about emotions for the puppets and then filming it with your phone or a tablet.
All children learn and develop through play. Our articles on play and autistic children and play and children with disability are great starting points for adapting this activity guide for children with diverse abilities. You might also like to explore our activity guides for children with diverse abilities.