Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Encouraging your preschooler to use her imagination can yield many psychological benefits, such as in the areas of:
1. Learning Using her imagination encourages her to be more adventurous and to explore further. While pretending to be a police officer, for instance, she might wander around the garden more confidently. Imaginative play also helps her learn new ways of playing with her toys.
2. Mixing Pretend play can involve a useful social purpose. You only need to watch your child play with her friend for a few moments to realise how imaginative play encourages them to interact with each other.
3.Self-Expression Creative play helps her release her pent-up emotions. If she shouts and rages about the house, you will probably be annoyed with her – but if she does so in the middle of imaginative play, you will probably smile at her enthusiasm.
4. Roles Imaginative play allows your child to test out roles she may have to play in later life. For instance, pretending to be an older sister gives her a chance to experience what it feels like being responsible for a younger child.
5. Stress When your three-year-old is faced with a potentially stressful situation such as a visit to the doctor or dentist, you can use imaginative play to ease the tension. You could pretend-play the routine of the doctor’s examination to get her used to the idea.
6. Excitement The endless possibilities that arise from using her imagination mean that her life is altogether more exciting and interesting. She can literally do whatever she wants in her mind, and she doesn’t need anybody’s help to do this.
STIMULATING HER IMAGINATION
For all these reasons, you should take imaginative play seriously and give her plenty of encouragement when she shows an interest in it. Try to provide her with a good range of suitable toys, such as glove puppets, cuddly toys, toy kitchen equipment and toy household equipment. She is more likely to engage in imaginative play when these materials are close at hand. You might even want to join in with her yourself. By all means, take part in her imaginative games – but don’t take over altogether.
Dressing-up clothes are particularly useful for stimulating your child’s imagination. She only needs a very modest collection of your old clothes, such as a jumper, a shirt, flat-heeled shoes and a couple of hats. You can also buy toy hats from any good toy shop.
Keep all those items in a box that your child can reach easily. Add in a few shopping bags and a couple of pieces of old jewellery, and your three-year-old can become any person she wants. She will also enjoy having you read stories and poems to her, especially when you act out the different characters in an animated manner. This fires up her imagination.
Some parents are concerned that their child may become “lost” in her inner world of imagination. Don’t worry – that simply doesn’t happen. Your child understands the difference between the real world and her imagined world, even when she is only three or four years old.
She knows the image in her mind is only a symbolic representation of the real thing. She doesn’t think of it in these terms, obviously, but she definitely does know the difference between the two, even though she may seem very involved in imaginative play at times.
So, there is no confusion in her mind even when she seems totally caught up in her pretend environment. Many parents have had the experience of rushing over to their children who appear to be fighting furiously with each other, only to be met with the words: “There’s nothing wrong, Mum. We are only pretending.”