The power of pretend
When children pretend they are not just playing make-believe. They are practicing the difference between real and not- real ( an integral scientific concept) . They are learning to put themselves in another's shoes - (psychologists call this Theory of Mind). They are acquiring an adaptive skill that will help them cope with difficult situations. They are learning how to comfort themselves. And, they are building mental flexibility - an essential component of a mature brain.
Imaginary friends - Ages 2 .5 to 3.5 - not all children have imaginary friends, but if your child does, that is a great sign that he is using creativity to build a world that makes sense.
Sometime around three years of age your child may talk about friends that don't exist. My daughter Heather had "Whoiss" and "Heiss". When she was an adult she told me that they looked like Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street. But as a three year old she didn't describe them but played with them. Whoiss would leave for work and leave Heiss home with the babysitter (I worked and left Heather home with a babysitter). But Heather would assure Heiss that everything would be ok. I once overheard her telling Heiss, "You are sad now. But, Whoiss will come home later and you will play!" of course those are the same words I often said to Heather when I left in the morning.
Pretend Play Dates - ages 4 to 7- schedule a play date a few of your child's friends with a theme like "funny hats" or "baseball players".
Funny hats - Gather a group of baseball caps, woolen hats, dressy hats, etc. that can be picked from a bag. Ask each child to pick a hat without looking in the bag, then act like the person they chose. Throw the hats back in the bag and let each child pick different one. On the third try, ask the children to make a play or story about the characters.
Baseball players - for boys, try putting about fifteen baseball cards in a box and ask each boy to pick one. Once each boy has a card have them go outside and hit, catch or throw balls like the player they picked.
Creative Dramatics - Ages 6 -12 - see if your park district or community house has creative dramatics classes for school-age children. Adults who are trained in creative dramatics help children learn creative ways to express themselves and lose their fear of performing in front of others.
WHY? Many researchers like Rebecca Saxe and Randy Buchner believe that our ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes is an essential component of social skills. Referred to as "Theory of Mind," it is a right hemisphere capacity that may, over time, allow us to get ourside of ourselves,; not only thinking about other poeple but planning for the future. .
Pretend is the beginning of taking the perspective of others: Theory of Mind