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Neuro-Dramatic-Play for Empathy and Anger Management

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We have heard about the power of play and how vital it is for our children’s development and we have seen how drama classes can be an extension of that, providing its own benefits toward healthy child development. So when Drama and Play Therapist, Dr Sue Jennings came to our school to talk about Neuro-Dramatic-Play and how it can help children learn to develop empathy and anger management strategies, I was very eager to hear what she had to share. The timing could not have been more opportune given that I have been having difficulties on these particular issues with my own son of late.

Far too often, we give priority to intellectual development and there is a tendency to neglect the social and emotional development of our children. Even if we acknowledge its importance, it often plays second fiddle to academic achievement. As much as I value character development, I know I have been guilty of not doing enough. So this is me trying to refocus.

These are some of the notes from Sue’s talk…

Neuro-Dramatic-Play and Embodiment-Projection-Role

Sue talked about two interweaving developmental paradigms – Neuro-Dramatic-Play (NDP) and Embodiment-Projection-Role (EPR).

NDP is the earliest embodied development, beginning in infancy and continuing until 6 months after birth. It is characterised by “sensory, rhythmic and dramatic play” and it influences the growth of healthy attachments.

EPR is the developmental paradigm that follows the progression of dramatic play from birth to 7 years.

It is important for children to develop competence in NDP and EPR because they are essential to a child’s maturation. NDP and EPR:

  • creates the core of attachment between mother and infant
  • forms the basis of emotional intelligence
  • facilitates problem solving and conflict resolution
  • gives children the experience and skills of the social world.

The body is the primary means of learning and all other learning is secondary to that first learned through the body. Anything that interrupts the primary means of learning can lead to a distorted embodiment development.

Sand Play

Neuro-Dramatic-Play Techniques

  • Appropriate massage – upper back and shoulders,or hands
  • Rocking in pairs – row, row, row the boat
  • Blowing bubbles and catching them
  • Messy play with finger paints, sand and water (see also: therapeutic sand play)
  • Drum rhythms and echoes
  • Clapping songs with words and movement
  • Drama games: stop start, healthy struggles

Embodiment Techniques

  • gross body movement involving the whole body
  • fine body movement with different body parts
  • sensory movement involving textures, sound, taste, smell and sight
  • singing games which name hands, feet, eyes, nose and so on
  • rhythmic movement and dance
  • rough and tumble play
  • creative ideas of moving as monsters, aliens, mice, etc.
  • stories with sounds and movement


This stage is from 13 months to 3 years. During this stage, the child is responding to the world beyond the body and to things outside the body.

Make Your Own Sock Puppet

Projective Techniques

  • play with natural media: pebbles, bark, twigs, leaves
  • play with “junk materials” from scrap shops and re-cycling
  • play with sand, water, finger paint, clay, plasticine
  • play with pictures: crayons, paints, drawing, collage with varied media
  • play with bricks and counters: patterns, constructions, “all fall down”
  • play with toys: sand tray stories, sculpting
  • play with scenes: doll houses, puppet-making (puppet play is a great way for children to express feelings and emotions they may otherwise be reluctant to talk about)

By the end of the projection stage, the child’s play becomes more and more dramatised with stories and scenes being enacted from newly created stories, or stories that already exist.

Role and Story Techniques

  • use large boxes and pieces of cloth to enable children to develop their own ideas
  • use simple roles with single feelings: the angry person, the sad person and maybe draw the faces of the people
  • create animal characters that interact
  • use favourite stories that enact together
  • use the dressing up box to allow a dramatised story to emerge
  • use a mask as a starting point for a story
  • use ideas that have been generated through projective play

Older Children and Teenagers

Clay for Messy Play

The stages are usually completed by age 7, but for many children, the developmental delay can extend into their teens. Techniques that can help them develop the experience include:

  • drama games for embodiment experience
  • clay for messy play
  • words and phrases cut from newspapers and magazines to create poems, announcements and posters for projective work
  • scenes fro their own lives, newspaper stories, and modern plays can be used in role work

About the Brain

There are three parts to the brain:

  • reptilian brain: instinctual and reactive – required for survival but can react inappropriately or from learned fears
  • mammalian brain: emotions, feelings, nurturing, foundation of attachment
  • higher brain: executive function – reasoning, weighing up, reflection, empathy

Individuals stuck in their reptilian or mammalian brain are unable to show empathy or make thoughtful decisions. If our emotional intelligence does not keep up with IQ, then feelings can interfere with academic learning, and the development of friendships and relationships.

The Teenage Years

During the teenage years (between 10 and 17), the brain goes through major upheavals. Most teens need to sleep more and may be prone to emotional outbursts and mood swings, and may be vulnerable to addiction. This is a period when they need more understanding, and a calm and creating approach to bring out greater wellness and empathy.

For more about NDP, visit Neuro-Dramatic-Play Ltd.

Sue also provides counselling and therapy for families at Enrich Counselling and Therapy Centre.

Helpful Books by Sue Jennings for implementing NDP:


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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