"Arghhhh, mom and dad, I'm a pirate!" "You're under arrest! I am a police officer! Stop right there!" "I am a waving my magic wand at you, because I am a fairy princess!" These phrases, like many other, may sound familiar to you. They are examples of comments made by children who are exhibiting imaginative play, otherwise known as pretending to be something (or someone!) they are not. Imaginative play is an amazing opportunity for children to completely immerse themselves into the lives of others. It is the only instance in which you may be a fire fighter one day, a doctor the next, and a teacher the following. Although imaginative play is considered creative and fun, it is also linked to the development of social, cognitive, and language skills.
Pretend play it is usually based around a familiar experience. They may re-enact their doctor’s visit, grocery shopping, school day, or favorite movie. Even though these experiences are part of their routine, children usually take on different roles during pretend play. They may be the doctor, parent, or teacher instead of themselves. By acting as these people, children are able to develop Theory of Mind.
Theory of Mind is the ability to understand that one’s thoughts and feelings may be different than others. Pretend play can also help children cope with real- life situations. For example, a child may feel scared during their doctor visits, but during pretend doctor visits, the child may act as the comforting doctor. Frequent calming phrases may be used such as, “This won’t hurt”, “Don’t worry it will be over soon”, and “you can have a lollipop afterwards”. Children may also re-enact stressful home situations like illness, death, or divorce. This will help children understand other family member’s feelings on the issue and practice coping skills of their own.
Imaginative play requires a ton of thinking skills and strategies. Divergent thinking is highly present in pretend play. Divergent thinking is the ability to think of many different ideas, themes and symbols. It allows children to be creative while expressing both positive and negative feelings. After the child accomplishes the difficult task of creating the plotline, children will be faced with compromise and negotiation.
In a perfect world, the child will be able to play their chosen role and the plot line will follow their plan. Fortunately, this is not always true and will encourage children to practice compromise and flexibility. Also, children can practice self-regulation including reduced aggression, delay of gratification, and empathy. Every situation and problem a child faces during pretend play mimics adults’ every day challenges. Children will learn to balance their ideas with others, show empathy towards other’s feelings, assign roles, as well as build on other’s ideas.
Listen to your child during pretend play. You will most likely notice your child repeating many of your own phrases. Imaginative play is a great opportunity for your child to reflect on all the language they hear throughout the day. They are able to learn meaning of new vocabulary words through context. Imaginative play may include common themes and plot lines of stories children hear in school or at home. Your child will start to connect spoken and written language together, aiding in the reading process.
Now that you are aware of the benefits of imaginative play, look for tips on encouraging pretend play next week on our blog! If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s imaginative play, contact Lumiere Children’s Therapy.
"The Importance of Pretend Play in Child Development." Bright Horizons Family Solutions. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Aug. 2016.
"The Importance of Pretend Play." Scholastic.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Aug. 2016.
Kaufman, Scott Barry. "The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development." Psychology Today. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Aug. 2016.