Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around pretending, creating expansive games with a friend, like movies, where we each had a role and objective and took turns living out an incredible fantasy. I played pretend with my stuffed animals at night to ward off boredom before I fell asleep. I played it with costumes, toys, the dog—it was a way of life for me that nurtured my creativity and helped shape me into the person I am today. But most importantly, it gave me a childhood full of wonder and imagination, something I desperately hope to pass on to my girls. Here’s why you should want the same thing:
Playing pretend helps with language development. Go sit outside your child’s room and listen to them while they play. You’ll probably hear them say things they’ve never said before. When pretending, they’ll be forced to come up with names for characters, places, etc. (Around my house it usually has the words glitter or sparkle in it.) New words and phrases bring new questions, and I don’t know about you, but I learn best when I’m legitimately curious about something. Playing pretend nourishes social skills. When children engage in pretend play it forces them to consider others and appreciate relationships with others, even if they’re playing by themselves. Imaginary friends get upset, princesses need rescuing from dragons. Children will train themselves to deal the emotions of others without even realizing it. By training in play, they’ll be better off when real emotional challenges come, especially if they play pretend with their friends, siblings, and even you.
A final great reason to encourage pretend play is it will help your child develop their creative side. Pretending as a child gave me a huge advantage when I broke into the world of fiction writing. I just went from pretending around me to pretending on paper, because the process of creating a pretend game was essentially the same as creating a good story. So if you plan on getting your child into writing, acting, or any number of other creative hobbies, then playing pretend will definitely help them along the way.
How To Do It
Not all childhoods are created equal. I grew up perfectly healthy with two loving parents, my wife grew up with kidney failure in a broken home. Playing pretend with our children doesn’t come as naturally to her as it does for me because she spent so many of her younger years sick. That’s not her fault. If you had a similar childhood, it’s not yours either. If you were too sick to play pretend when you were little, or had an abusive parent that wouldn’t let you do anything, or if pretending just never was your thing but you want to learn for the sake of your child, that’s what this section is for.
My girls like to play Restaurant frequently, and the same principles apply. I get to sit down and they come take my order, prepare the food, and bring it to me, but something always invariably goes wrong 😊. We run out of tomatoes, or my food gets burned—if this doesn’t happen, I do my best to add these elements in and then help my girls work their way through those problems. They are inevitably proud and their self-confidence boosted when they overcome the conflict presented and arrive at a pleasant resolution.
Every game of pretend can be orchestrated in the same way. You need players and the conflict/objective.
1. Players—Everyone involved and their specific roles in the game.
2. Conflict—An objective to be met or obstacle to be overcome.
My Own Example
A while back, I recorded one of the pretend games I was playing with my girls so my wife could see it. Hopefully it’ll give you some ideas as well. I’ll walk you through everything I did quickly before you watch the video. This is just how I like to play with my kids, and it may seem like a lot of prep work, but I promise it’s worth it. My girls still talk about the time we did this.
Supergirl and Batman Vs. The Joker
1. Me—Alfred and the Joker
2. My Girls—Supergirl and Batman
1. Save the Baby Animals From the Joker
2. Use specific methods to defeat the Joker
Hopefully this will give you some ideas! Remember, try to create unique and specific challenges for your children to overcome as they play. It really will help them later on in adult life. And once you’ve created a few games for them, walk them through creating one of their own. If you’re kids don’t seem that into it, make sure that you are trying to have fun with them. Believe me, I know parenting isn’t easy. But as long as you’re trying your best, your children will know and appreciate it.