Pretend play has very important functions for the development of children’s minds. Is there a common theme that your child likes to pretend? Has there been a moment when you were not comfortable with what your child was pretending? You might get a sneak peak at your child’s world through her pretend play. It could be very different from how you see the world.
- Pretend play helps children understand the real world. If you have a child, I’m sure you often hear him saying, “I’m pretending to be a cook!” or “I’m pretending to be a cat!” Why is it so important to pretend? Children understand the world and the roles of others by pretending and using their imaginations. So, by pretending to be a cat, he is trying to figure out what cats do to make them different from other animals. Before children can pretend, it takes a lot of observation, which requires a lot of brain function.
- The magic words: “Tell me more.” Not everyone is comfortable participating in pretend play with a child. For some people, it can feel a little awkward, and that’s okay. However, when your child is inviting you to her imaginary world, don’t turn the invitation down by saying “It’s not my thing.” When your child is pretending and showing her imagination, simply say “Tell me more.” This will encourage your child to elaborate on her story, more carefully observe the objects she is playing with, and articulate her thoughts using words and actions. By helping your child’s imagination move one step further, you are encouraging your child’s brain building.
- Children cope with their experience and emotions through pretend play. Your child is playing with his favorite stuffed animal, Mr. Bear, pretending to play in the woods with other animals. Then, you suddenly hear him say “Now, Mr. Bear is dead!” What would your reaction be? It’s easy to stop him by saying, “Don’t say that. It’s not nice!” You might wonder what you did wrong to make your child behave in a way that feels out-of-the-norm. But don’t worry – these kinds of scenarios are natural for children, particularly when they encounter difficult or confusing circumstances. Children make sense of the world through play, and play also helps children cope with their experience and emotions. If your child says “Mr. Bear is dead,” it might be because he is trying to understand what that means, possibly because he heard about someone passing away. If you stifle this exploration, he will miss out on an opportunity that is really important for him at the moment. So, instead of saying “no” you can ask your child why Mr. Bear is dead and what he thinks that means. This will also give you the opportunity to understand your child’s experience and clarify possible misconceptions.