Want to do something that will expand your child’s love for creativity, help to stabilize her emotions, and build your relationship? Play pretend! A child’s mind benefits from imaginative play, and there is little more that will bring a child joy than when a parent joins in for the fun. Pretending is healthy, fosters out of the box thinking, and teaches a child how to relax while also showing her how to resolve internal conflicts.
Children have a tremendous benefit over adults. They have boundless imaginations and they use this ability to fantasize and solve larger problems. Children everywhere, in every culture, dress up as princes or princesses, superheroes, or other grand characters that embody greatness, conquer evil, win love, or battle the bad guys. They build forts and make castles to shelter those in need and make cars and planes to get away from villains. Talk about a confidence booster and a great way to boost self concept! What adult can solve world problems with the wave of a magic wand?
For me, one of the greatest modalities of treatment that I have at my fingertips in the world of behavioral health is play therapy. Through pretend play, children use toy characters or objects to act out their own feelings or show how they interpret their environment. They show me scenarios that they’ve encountered but not yet worked through or verbalized completely, giving me a glimpse of their “window to the world”. This then allows me to help children resolve internal struggles and develop healthy coping skills. All through a sand box and some wooden toy people!
Sound complicated? You, too, can engage in play with your child to help her work through feelings!
Let’s take for example a situation in which your child is not talking with you about her fear of school because of children teasing her. You ask her to use her dolls to play school. She pretends that one of her dolls says something mean and hits the other doll. You interpret that she is re-enacting a situation when a peer was unkind to her in class. Pointing to the doll in her hand that is “hurt”, you ask an open ended question, “What is she feeling?” Your daughter responds, “She is sad…and mad. People are always mean to her. She thinks no one likes her. She feels like crying a lot.” You recognize that she is talking about her own feelings when she is teased at school. See how much substance you can glean from playing pretend?
I even play pretend with my seven year old when he is having a hard time talking to me about something. I will pretend to be the voice of his favorite stuffed animal to help him talk or relax. While he probably wouldn’t publicly own that he loves when I do this, he responds so well and it makes such a difference!
So, next time you feel in the mood to have some fun and help your child to grow creatively or emotionally, engage in pretend! Try some stuffed animal talk, superhero advice, or free play and see what happens! At home, you can use Legos, dolls, barbies, superheros, or Star Wars figures to act out situations. You can have a Nerf gun war with your child when he or she is feeling upset or needs to get energy out. Try tossing a ball outside and pretending it carries a question in it that bounces from you to your child (using questions that are fun and exploratory so you learn more about your child). Ride bikes and talk about the animals in the trees and what they might be thinking or feeling (helps with feeling identification when children can’t identify feelings well)!
My guess is that you’ll find pretend play to be therapeutic for you and your child, too!
“May the LORD cause you to flourish, both you and your children.”- Psalm 115:14