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It is no secret that playing pretend is an important part of a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. It helps them learn social skills and understand relationships with other people. Playing pretend lets them explore emotions and learn to express their emotions. It helps them learn about the world around them. It also helps expand their logical reasoning – an empty pretend teacup needs to be filled back up with pretend tea! Kids learn so much by playing pretend by themselves and with other kids, but you should be playing pretend with them too. Here are five reasons you should be playing pretend with your kids.
Why You Should Be Playing Pretend with Your Kids
1. Model Behaviors
Playing pretend is a great way to model behaviors you want your kids to learn. When kids are playing pretend, they learn social and emotional skills and problem-solving skills. They learn how to take turns. They even learn how to understand the way other people are feeling.
When you play pretend with your kids, you can model the appropriate way to react to certain situations. For younger kids, you can model sharing and taking turns. You can model ways to show that you are happy, sad, angry, that your feelings are hurt, or how to treat your friends. Playing pretend gives you the opportunity to introduce lots of words that express your feelings to your kids. Being able to positively express their emotions is a powerful thing to help your kids learn. Kids who develop strong emotional skills tend to have healthier emotional relationships later in their lives.
Playing pretend also lets you guide and model problem-solving skills. You can pretend you are in an imaginary escape room and need to come up with a way to get out. Or you can pretend that you are shipwrecked and need to keep yourselves safe until help arrives. The play can be silly and outlandish, but the thought processes still help your kids become better problem solvers.
2. Nurture Their Imagination
Playing pretend is obviously about fostering your kids’ imagination. There is something about playing pretend that works all sorts of things in the brain. Imaginative kids are not only more creative adults, they typically have better emotional regulation and logical reasoning later in life. So join in on that pretend play and get your kids’ creativity flowing.
Further nurture their imagination with some of your old clothes. Use old sheets or fabric for making forts or silly costumes. Let them play with old magazines or some plastic utensils and dishes from the dollar store. Show them that all kinds of things can be used to make their pretend play even more magical.
3. Show Them You Understand
Playing pretend with your kids can show them that you understand them. Kids, even young kids, often feel like their lives are dictated by adults. They do not have many opportunities to make their own decisions or feel heard. Playing pretend can show them that you understand all that. Let them pretend to be the grown-up while you are the kid. Besides letting them be the boss for a while, you can also use this as an opportunity to model ways they can show you when they feel like they are not being heard.
After playing pretend, talk to them about it. If they were a little bossy or demanding while pretending to be the mom or dad, later on, ask if they sometimes feel like that is how moms and dads act. Give them the opportunity to tell you how they feel. If they just laugh and say they were being silly, that is fine too. Playing pretend is supposed to be fun, so do not make too much out of it if their make-believe mom is a real crazy train.
4. Broaden Their Horizons
Use playing pretend to introduce your kids to new ideas and scenarios. It could be something like pretending before a trip to the hospital or imagining their first plane ride, or it could be something like pretending to visit another country and learning about different foods and cultures. Playing pretend like this broadens their horizons and can reduce anxiety about a situation that might seem scary (like a visit to the hospital). Pretending to visit the hospital can make your kids feel more familiar with what to expect and less scared about what happens there if they have never been there before.
It is important to let kids run free with their imagination, but in these scenarios, it is okay to guide the pretend play, especially when you are trying to introduce them to a new concept that they may be anxious about. But just because you are guiding the pretend play does not mean you cannot let their imaginations take hold. See what happens when your kids drive some of this play. You may realize they are not as anxious as you thought or that they are anxious about some aspect that is entirely different from what you expected.
5. Make Memories
Playing pretend with your kids is something they will remember. Long after the days of imaginary friends, pretend tea parties, and make-believe shipwrecks, your kids will remember when mom crawled around on the floor pretending to be an elephant and how you do the best pirate voice. We spend so much time working, running errands, staring at screens, and hauling kids to activities that we do not always take the tie to just play and have fun. “Playing house” in the playhouse out in the backyard or playing an imaginary game in the sandbox are times that not only let you connect with your kids but times that both of you will likely end up cherishing when they are adults.
It is okay to guide some of your child’s pretend play, but it is important to let them use their imagination. It is okay to let their make-believe scenarios become crazy and outlandish. That is the point of playing pretend after all. Kids grow up to be smarter and more creative when they pretend and have imaginary friends when they are young. So have a pretend tea party in the middle of outer space with an imaginary giraffe wearing a feather boa and her panda bear friend who wears polka dot pants. With any luck, your child will remember those afternoons for the rest of their life.
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Sources: Is Pretend Play Good for Kids?
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