Time: 30-45 minutes


Often people do not realize that their behavior affects the behavior of others. Role reversal exercises have been used effectively by human service professionals to help people to empathize and better understand the views of other members in their families.


In this role reversal activity, children and their parents/caretakers/grandparents will take turns acting out what they perceive to be each other's usual behavior patterns when it comes to issues related to food.


General Objectives

  • Participants will show sensitivity to other members' food behaviors, whether good, bad, or both.
  • Participants will demonstrate a collaborative problem-solving strategy to deal with other family members' food behaviors.

Specific Objectives

Participant will be able to:

  • Identify 1-2 of their food-related behaviors or attitudes which are pleasant or difficult for other family members.
  • Propose 1-2 techniques or tips to increase pleasure and reduce stress about food.


  • Paper
  • Pencils or pens
  • Handout: "Role Playing Scenarios"


  1. Ask participants to think of a food situation that went badly between parent and child or to make up a realistic similar scenario. In case the facilitator(s)/ participants can't think of something, here are several scenarios to help families get started. These scenarios are listed on a handout and described below.

    Handout 1-4: Role Playing Scenarios

    • A parent is disappointed when a planned family meal falls apart. It turns out that the child ate pizza following afterschool activities and has no appetite for the family dinner. The child loves pizza and complains that there are too many foods he hates to eat at home. Why can't we have more pizza at home?
    • Son is mad because he is always has to eat his vegetables. Dad thinks he is too picky.
    • Mom is frustrated when everyone wants different foods at mealtime. Frequent food fights occur.
    • Mom is concerned because her daughter always skips breakfast.
    • Or, create your own scenario -- as long as it somehow relates to food.
  2. Ask for a "volunteer" family -- to act out a scenario of interest (one of the above scenarios or another one they prefer). There is
    one twist to this role play; the parent pretends to be the child and the child pretends to be the parent. [This activity can be done with one family at a time "performing" the role play for others, or with all participating families working on the role plays simultaneously.]

    Remind participants that although this can be a fun activity and an educational activity (e.g., in gaining a greater understanding about why family members act they way they do), they should be careful to avoid overly exaggerating the behavior or words of their partner (parent or child). Some exaggeration is fun but too much can be hurtful and does not solve anything.
  3. After the role play(s), have role play participants and other workshop participants discuss their role play experiences. Here are some prompting questions to facilitate discussion:
    • What do you think the parent was feeling?
    • What was the child feeling?
    • Why did things go wrong?
    • What could have been done differently?
  4. Next, ask the role play participants to act out the scenario again, this time behaving in ways that reflect how they would like other family members to behave. For example, if the child wants his/her parent to offer more vegetable choices, the child would act out buying and preparing more vegetables. If the role players get stuck in terms of not knowing a good thing to say, place the role play "on hold" and look to members of other families (who are in the audience) to share an idea or two.
  5. Discuss the differences:
    • What specific tips or strategies could each person try at home?
    • How did you feel about yourself and others in the success role play and how did you feel about yourself and others during the "food fight."


Discussing the situation between the two participants and if possible in a group will allow for greater understanding of why each behaves the way s/he does.

Joint problem solving allows both sides to save face and not feel they are the only one to blame for the problem. Giving their problem to the other and taking on the other's problem will give them a different perspective and allow them to have empathy for the other person's feelings.

Allowing parents to view themselves from a child's perspective can be difficult, especially if they feel they have little control of the child's eating habits. Keep in mind too that children often have a difficult time respectfully telling their parents what they like or don't like.

Contact Us

Matthew Kaplan, Ph.D.
  • Professor, Intergenerational Programs and Aging

Contact Us

Matthew Kaplan, Ph.D.
  • Professor, Intergenerational Programs and Aging