Positive Parenting: How Your Child’s Imagination Can Help Them Grow

In the space of just a few minutes, your child’s imagination can transport them into alternate realities as architects, pirates, queens and more.

Now new research shows pretend play can have real social and emotional advantages for kids.

As for how it works, Developmental Psychologist Thalia Goldstein says pretend play needs little introduction.

“You don’t want to tell a kid how to play, just give them the opportunity to play,” Goldstein says.

Goldstein studied 97 kids enrolled in pre-kindergarten head start at the age of 5.

The kids were split in three activity groups. One group pretended to be animals or other people, one group was read to, and a third group built with blocks.

“What we found was the children who were in the dramatic pretend play group increased their emotional control over the course of the eight weeks,” Goldstein says.

Researchers measured emotional control using puppets and by looking at children’s behavior when they were under stress.

In this study the puppets were either in control or out of control.

Researchers asked which puppet the kids were more like. Kids in the dramatic play group identified with the puppet in control.

“Kids are learning what their emotions feel like in their bodies, what their emotions feel like in themselves and how they can begin to modulate and control those emotions,” Goldstein says.

Goldstein recommends parents spend at least 15 minutes a day engaged in pretend play, something as simple as pretending to be a chef, while your child is a waiter.

Or pretending to bake a cake while the other celebrates a birthday.

These examples of make-believe play can have real-life results.

Researchers say the results suggest the potential for using pretend play as an intervention to improve emotional control and social skills and improve school readiness among high-risk kids.

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