Pretend Play is Good for Emotional Growth

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    Playing pretend is a natural part of growing up. Most children show the first signs of playing pretend at around 18 - 24 months old. Have you seen your toddler speaking gobbledygook into the phone? Maybe your little one has been mimicking the mannerisms of their favourite cartoon character? These small actions can be recognised as early types of pretend play. Toddlers learn about the world around them through re-enacting things they’ve seen or experienced in their everyday life.


    Pretend play is a perfect way for children to explore their own emotions and learn to engage with others in a comfortable and safe environment. While acting out roles, children will be putting themselves in other people’s shoes, whether that’s as a parent at home, a teacher in school or even a princess in a castle. This requires them to think out what each character would do and how they feel about that. By acting as different people, children are learning to understand and empathise with others.

    Social skills

    Very early pretend play will be a solo activity for children. They are establishing ideas for themselves. As toddlers they will increasingly have the opportunity to play pretend with friends and other children at nursery or later on at primary school. Interacting during pretend play boosts social skills and allows children to get a sense of their own feelings and the reactions of friends to their actions. Pretend play at a young age is good practise for the social skills that will be increasingly important as they grow up.

    Dealing with emotions

    Young children use pretend play to express both positive and negative emotions and learn how to deal with these feelings. In some instances, if a child has seen or experienced something really upsetting in their day to day life then they may repeatedly act out the scene as a way to make sense of the situation. For example, if a child had witnessed an argument between adults then they may act out a similar scene when playing with their dolls as a way to cope with their own emotions about this. This is a natural part of emotional growth.

    Symbolic Thinking

    Another aspect of pretend play is symbolic thinking. As your toddler progresses and experiments through pretend play, they will engage in symbolic thinking. Your child may treat their toys as if they are real. For example, a toddler may talk to their dolls and teddy bears, try to feed them and even tuck them into bed. Being able to transform objects into something different, or give old toys new powers, is a great way for children to strengthen their imagination and creativity. This kind of play also shows that your child is engaging with the needs of others and learning to care for them.

    Pretend play is a natural part of growing up for every child and boosts their emotional growth. Through role play and playing with others, children learn to explore their own emotions, empathise with others and develop their social skills.

    Article supplied by Sam Flatman is an outdoor learning specialist and an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Play. Sam has been designing playgrounds for the past 10 years and has a passion for outdoor education. Sam believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development, which can be integrated into the school curriculum.


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