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The Benefits of Pretend Play

Posted by Cherry on 6/26/2014

Play is the most natural activity that children engage in when not being fed, clothed or put to sleep. A child that is not allowed to play is deprived of the basic needs of childhood. And while the idea of play that millennials grow up with is centered around digital technology, it is in fact important to bring back the old-fashioned notion of play: that of going outdoors, getting their hands dirty and their knees scraped, interacting with friends face to face or meeting new people and creatures, and using their imagination to act out how they perceive the world or to dress up to be the grown-ups they want to become.

The latter kind of play, dressing up and pretending as another person (a grown-up they admire perhaps or an intriguing character they are trying to make sense of) or altogether another creature (which is not necessarily human) is one of the most important types of play because it engages the multiple faculties of children, develops latent skills or makes way for an entirely new one, fulfills their fantasies that may be hard to actualize in real life, and allows the child to sort things out in a safe and consequence-free environment so he or she learns from those experiences.

It's but normal for little girls to want to be a princess, and maybe even one who rules an icy kingdom, or maybe go to a Halloween party as a pirate, a black spider, a mouse, a dog or a unicorn (after all, sky's the limit for imagination in costume parties). By letting them fulfill these fantasies, you are not just satisfying a very basic human need, you are also allowing them to control their world, no matter how momentary.

More than just fulfilling deep-seated needs, there are tremendous benefits to allowing children to dress up. When they take on the personality of another, they are able to shift their perspective to the role they assume. By pretending to be bees or lady bugs, they should act like these insects, and therefore get to walk a mile in the shoes of these creatures. This role play promotes the development of empathy, a social skill that old people lament as disappearing from the millennials and one of the skills that adults need to develop in order to thrive and adjust well in what most grown-ups consider a highly competitive world.