Pretend play is an essential play skill for children to develop, and it helps kids learn language, tune in to other people and develop social skills.
Whether your child likes playing with dolls, trucks, dress-ups, characters from movies, or animals, pretend play is a wonderful and important type of play… And it just happens to be limitless fun!
Why is Pretend Play so important?
When children pretend, they are taking a different perspective and this can help their social skills. Perspective-taking is an essential part of being a skilled social communicator. To interact with other people, we need to understand that other people can think, feel, want and know different things to us. This is called ‘tuning in’ skills, or ‘Theory of Mind’. Children who have difficulties with social skills can find it hard to understand that other people have different thoughts and preferences, and this can cause friction in relationships. Pretend play helps children practice taking a different perspective, and therefore can improve their social skills.
Pretending a version of real life situations can help little minds process and rehearse for events in their own life. By running through real-life scenarions like taking bunny to the doctor, your child is learning how to cope with new, different or challenging situations. Use pretend play to practice steps in a new routine, or rehearse language they’ll use when they visit grandma!
Imaginative play helps with language development. You probably know already that young children learn a lot through play, including new words and phrases. When parents model and repeat new words or new phrases during play, children can learn to understand and use this new language. Joining in with your child’s pretend play is a great opportunity to give them lots of focused, repeated language input in a fun setting. Your child may repeat your words, or they may just hear your words as you repeat them – this is an important start to the learning process!
Pretend play improves a child’s cognitive development – When kids do imaginative play, they need to have the skills to hold two ideas in mind at the same time: one idea about reality (‘this is a doll’) and a different idea about pretending (‘I am pretending this is a baby’).
Let’s not forget that it’s FUN!
How to help your child with pretend play
Join in! Get down on the floor and play with them!
Watch your child’s actions and words carefully to see what they are interested in – If they like dressing the doll, follow their interest. If they are playing with a cup and tea pot, start a tea party!
Start with what your child is already intrested in, and add one new thing. You can add one new step in a pretend play routine, introduce one new toy to join in the activity, or a new word to describe what you’re playing with.
Do something surprising! This will catch your child’s attention, and creates great opportunities for learning new things. Children like when adults ‘make mistakes’ and do something silly.
Most importantly, have fun and be prepared to get a bit silly with your child!
If your child has difficulty with play skills, pretend play, or understanding the perspective of others, you might be interested in the Hanen TalkAbility program. This online parent program helps parents of children aged around 3-7 years develop social skills, conversation skills, and play skills.