Tips for Playing Make-Believe

Tips for Playing Make-Believe

  1. Kids begin pretending as early as 14-18 months, but it is especially active from 3- 6 years. By that time, they can decide what the play will be about and what props to use. Added fun can be had by adding art to the process. They can make props. They can make an adventure out of searching for props in basements, attics, or outside in yards and neighborhoods.
  2. Let the children “direct” the play. “Pretending” they are in control teaches them about control – something we want them to learn and apply to their own self-control as they get older.
  3. As your child’s “play partner,” it is fair for you both to agree on some things. Perhaps you have subjects you don’t like playing. For example, no guns, swords, spanking, hitting, etc. Perhaps you want to sit more than chase or play restaurant more than dragons. These agreements can help children learn about cooperation and win-win ways to have more fun playing with others. Just make sure that your agreements include some of what they want as well.
  4. Play make-believe about needed tasks, like cleaning up toys. Pretend you are both dump trucks gathering the toys and dumping them into storage containers, complete with roaring truck sounds. Pretend while you are setting the table. It can be a table for a special animal dinner. You can act out what animal will sit at each place and what they will order for dinner.
  5. If you are just plain tired of so much pretend play, you do not need to be available “on demand.” You can set short periods of time (set a timer) that you agree to play on a regular basis (every morning before lunch). This way children learn that they can count on your undivided attention at certain times. It can also teach them to learn to wait. Something all of us can have trouble with.

  6. Allow yourself to “let go.” Pretend can be messy, loud and big. It requires quick, exaggerated moves, funny faces and sounds, not looking like we usually do. Adults have to get outside themselves – risking temporarily being someone or “something” else. On the other hand, children get inside themselves and escape the pressures of learning to grow up. Pretend is freeing and fun. The good news is that pretending still helps kids learn to grow up even though it looks like they are ignoring life as it really is.
  7. Remember that pretend never really ends as children get older. It just shows up in older ways – through art, theatre, creative writing, clothing choices, etc.
  8. Through all your pretend experiences with your children find ways to help them see the difference between what is real and what is fantasy. For young children that may mean being clear that you are playing pretend. “I like to play pretendwith you, so who will slay the pretend dragon first?” Or, “I’m done pretending now, let’s be who we really are – no more monsters allowed.” For older children that may mean celebrating and enjoying the magic of their imagination while still pointing out that problems are solved by the good thinking and hard work of people. “There are no magical happenings or solutions in life.” or “How do you think your story would end in the real world?”
  9. For the most part, you need not be concerned about the subjects of a child’s pretend play. Any subject they wonder about, they are likely to want to pretend about. However, remember that you can always talk to your doctor, if you are seeing extremes. For example, constant play about certain subjects or the avoidance of certain subjects or unusually strong emotions about certain subjects.


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