A preschooler we know spent much of his playtime pretending to be a superhero. He was small for his age, spoke in a quiet voice, and was often shy when he met someone new, but once he had his cape on, he talked with a deep, strong voice, and he walked with a swagger. Just how much that costume meant to him became obvious to his family when he insisted on wearing his cape to the doctor’s office. It seemed to help him feel braver and stronger — and made his visit to the doctor more manageable.
Understanding what’s real and what’s pretend
Sometimes pretending can seem so real that children wonder if putting on a costume might actually change them inside. It’s important for them to know that although we can pretend to be someone else, we can never be someone else. We will always be ourselves.
Playing about Feelings
Although pretending can take many different forms, much of it seems to be a way for children to find out how they feel about something. Playing out different roles is a way for children to begin to understand other people’s feelings, too. Seeing things from another person’s point of view can be particularly hard for young children. Role playing can help them feel what it may be like to be another person for a little while.
Imagining Leads to Learning
Whenever you encourage your child’s imagination, you’re also stretching your child’s thinking skills. Young children know best what they see, hear, smell, or touch. That’s concrete thinking. But when they use their imagination for their pretend play, they’re using abstract thinking, and that’s essential for school learning and for creative thinking and problem-solving all through life.
Joining in the Play
Parents sometimes wonder how much they ought to offer or suggest to stimulate imagination. The best kind of playthings are open-ended materials, like dress-up clothes, puppets, and art materials, because children can use them to work through their thoughts and feelings about the world. Some children need specific play props at times, like a toy telephone. Others may be satisfied if you just put your hand to your ear, pretending to talk on the phone. As you become an active partner in your child’s imaginary play, you will come to know your child better, and you’ll have a better sense of what might be helpful.