Pretend play--Does your child indulge in it?

Swapna Nair
3 to 7 years

Created by Swapna Nair
Updated on Oct 05, 2020

Pretend play Does your child indulge in it
Reviewed by Expert panel

‘I am superman; I can fly’

‘Mom, see I am the princess of the faraway castle’

‘Vrooom, vroom look at the aeroplane I am flying’

An infant is born. Parents coo; parents gurgle at the infant. By night the magic spell is cast and the tales begin. As the infant grows the stories grow too. Soon the world of toddlers and pre-schoolers is pepped up with fantasy beasts and fairies.

How You Introduce Pretend Play To Your Child Through Stories?

A lot of our communication is through stories. Traits of character, tales of valour and values are passed on through stories. Thus growing on a diet of stories from their loved ones, reinforced by media children live in a fascinating world. As the cognitive development takes place, it is important for them to express their new found vocabulary and imagination.

Pretend Play – When An Ordinary Object Becomes An Extraordinary Plaything

How often we see our children take a simple object and claim it as a piece of their fantasy- a pebble becomes a moon stone; a cycle becomes a rocket; a dupatta becomes a saree, a table becomes a tent and so on.From the age of one and a half to around seven, children indulge in role play or pretend play. We also call it imaginative play.

Why Is Pretend Play Important For Your Child?

Playing is very important in the development of a child. Often parents forget that through play, children acquire a lot of life skills. So is the case with imaginative play. It is essential to their normal development. This is because children learn by doing.

When a toddler begins to pretend play it signifies that they are growing; that they are able to express symbolically. This is actually an aha moment. Your toddler is able to symbolise! So a scale becomes a sword and a doll becomes a human. The child is able to have his/her own perspective and assign that to an object.

Now did we ever think so deeply? I guess not but do you know that psychologists have been doing research on pretend play since decades.

pretend play in children

What Are The Fascinating Facets Of Pretend Play?

Here are few fascinating facets of pretend play.

  1. Complex cognitive process: When the toddler begins to pretend play it means that an important milestone is being achieved. As adults we think it is funny or silly when we see a child pretending to be a car or build a wall with cushions. It does involve a complex thinking process in the child. The child who stacks the cushions is spatially sound. He has comprehended what a wall looks like and has been able to replicate.
    • When children do so much of thinking they are able to solve their little problems. If the child is pretending to be a car and is zooming around, what if the car stops. The child stops to re-fuel himself. Have you noticed this? The child is imitating his adult world- what he has observed. How marvellous, is it not?
    • I was observing two little girls playing doctor. Both wanted to play doctor. So they decided to take turns to being patients too with differing illnesses. Fair play?
  2. Socio-emotional skills: The above scenario of the little girls playing doctor also signifies that they are learning to understand each other. By acting as a doctor and a patient they are learning to step into someone else’s shoes too. This also helps them to empathise. Parents can use role play when they want children to understand a situation. Pretend play is very good for shy and anxious children. It helps them to mentally prepare for situations.
    • Pretend play helps in coaching children to regulate emotions. When one of the girls was acting out as a patient she was over dramatic about her imaginative stomach pain. Immediately the other girl tells her not to be so dramatic about a stomach pain. As a doctor she soothes her pain
    • Pretend play encourages cooperation too
  3. Language development: New words are learnt with reference to context. Children while engaging in pretend play may not need a real companion. They will turn their toys or pillows into characters. Often they just imagine a virtual character and talk. Parents may be initially concerned about this. It is very normal. The child is actually expressing his/her thoughts and feelings. In fact it is very therapeutic too.
    • When a life event has occurred -- divorce, death of a loved one, transfer to a new place etc. – the child is managing her/his emotions through such play
    • Even going to school for the first time in their life is traumatic for many toddlers. Pretend play is a safe way to deal with their separation anxiety
    • Parents can pick up many clues when they observe their children at play
  4. Creative thinking: Pretend play obviously encourages lateral thinking and creativity. The way their imagination stretches is awesome. The way they put to use, the furniture and their toys is fascinating
  5. Helpful for autistic child: Research has proved that when children with autism pretend play it is helpful in their language development and also proves they have good thinking skill
  6. Helpful for children with communication difficulties:Parents should understand that pretend play does not normally occur with autistic children and those children with communication difficulties. If they indulge, it would not be as complex as how other children play. But you could provide opportunities for pretend play

How To Encourage Pretend Play?

  1. Provide a safe space: especially for the ones who think they are spider man and superman, make safety a primary issue. Sometimes they may stretch their pretend play into their real time too. Here keep your home child proof. Ensure your balcony and terrace is safe.
  2. Offer a magic box: Give them a magic box that contains, maybe, an old telephone, cosmetic items, dresses, vessels, bedsheet, pillows, cushions, or any Knick knack that would not harm
  3. Give them old stationery: Old notebooks, diaries, crayons, pens can be given for play. Coins, stamps, used envelopes, pebbles, rocks, buttons, match box stickers, ice cream sticks- oh I have seen even dead insects in a child’s collection! Do not get alarmed when children cross-dress. As parents be keen observers
  4. Specific time when they can play under the table: Give them a specific time if they wish to use the dining table as a tent or the living room as a palace

Let the play begin. Enjoy the moments.

Did you like the blog on pretend play and its importance in your child's life? Does your child indulge in it? Please do share your views and feedback with us in the comments section below. Is there any topic you would like to be covered by our parent-child therapist Swapna Nair, then do leave your feedback in the comments and we will ensure that your topic is addressed.

This content has been checked & validated by Doctors and Experts of the parentune Expert panel. Our panel consists of Neonatologist, Gynecologist, Peadiatrician, Nutritionist, Child Counselor, Education & Learning Expert, Physiotherapist, Learning disability Expert and Developmental Pead.

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| Oct 19, 2017


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| Oct 19, 2017


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| Oct 23, 2017

My girls love to pretend play characters Elsa and Aana from the Frozen movie and they even address each other like that.. they way they take care of each other during pretend play and do their part is amazing to watch. thanks Swapna Nair Ma'am for sharing this amazing blog.

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| Oct 23, 2017

Shikha - great to hear. Frozen is a great film. Very realistic.

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| Nov 17, 2017

my child thinks he is a Spiderman what to Do

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| Nov 19, 2017

Poorva as I mentioned it is temporary. Do keep an eye on him and gently keep reminding about safety issues.

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| Nov 20, 2017

thanks Swapna

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| Sep 29, 2020

Baby is so cute the impossible quiz

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