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Imaginative Play: The Importance of Playing Along with Your Child

​This information is included in our Guide to Imaginative Play. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

Engaging in imaginative and creative play is a very important developmental milestone for kids. It builds important skills, including creative problem-solving, language and storytelling, and it helps children make sense of the world around them. Studies also show that the more elaborate children’s fantasy play is, the more engaged they’ll be in the classroom as they get older.

So nurturing your child’s imagination is an important gift you can give early on. But you can do even more. Besides simply allowing your young son or daughter to play dress-up and inhabit a world of fantasy, you can actively participate in their adventures.

For instance, if your young daughter asks you to have a chat with her imaginary friend, pretend to have a conversation with the “friend.” This will show that you respect your daughter’s imagination. Just don’t overdo it. While it’s fine to engage with an imaginary companion when prompted by your daughter, you should refrain from doing so on your own. For instance, with an imaginary friend named Susie, don’t ask, “Susie, don’t you think it’s time for Katie to brush her teeth and go to bed?” Susie is Katie’s invention, not yours. Using her for your own purposes can ruin the fun for Katie.

If your child wants to play superhero, you can get involved by playing the part of the villain and letting your son or daughter to “defeat” you. However, it’s a good idea to explain that while it’s fun for your child to pretend he or she is “super strong,” it’s not okay to do things that can hurt someone. This is also a good opportunity to model positive behaviors by pointing out that superheroes are “heroes” because they help people who are in trouble, not simply because they’re strong or fast or shoot laser beams out of their eyes.

The same goes for a young girl “princess.” Though princesses may be powerful due to their high station, they also can be kind and helpful to their subjects. (Plus, they still have to obey their parents, the king and queen.) Just as with the superhero fantasy, the princess fantasy offers a good opportunity to teach compassion and the benefits of helping those who are less fortunate.

If you’re not ready to jump right into the fantasy fray yourself, another way to be part of your children’s imaginary play is to collect old clothes and put them in a costume box. Kids can use old shoes, hats, coats and shirts to make a whole variety of costumes with just a touch of their youthful imagination. Scarves are particularly versatile — they can be transformed into an elegant accent to a princess’s gown or a superhero cape. All it takes is a bit of creativity. And children don’t always have to go the princess or superhero route; they can have great fun simply dressing up as adults — even as their parents.

The point is, while kids will have a lot of fun and learn a lot using their creativity to explore worlds of fantasy and imagination, your participation will make their fantasy play that much more rewarding.

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