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The Power of Make-Believe

As adults, we have fond memories of time spent playing dress-up in Mom’s clothing or shuffling around in Dad’s enormous shoes. We eagerly transformed ourselves into our favorite superheroes at Halloween. Coming home with a bagful of candy was only half the fun.

Children love to make-believe they are firemen, police officers, prima ballerinas, sports stars, doctors and nurses, kings or queens. It is an opportunity to step into a new world and use unfamiliar words as they dream about being all grown up.

As the loving adults in our children’s lives, we rarely stop to consider that when a child pretends to be a real-life or imaginary character, she is trying to make sense of her world. If a child is re-living a stressful experience at the doctor’s office, he may imitate the doctor by pretending to give his sister a shot. A child who plays house by washing dishes and caring for dolls and stuffed animals is trying out a new role as a parent.

During pretend play, as children make believe they are someone else, the roles they choose may provide us with insights into their special interests. Just as important, their make-believe play also can offer clues about concerns or stresses they may be facing. It is important for parents and other caregivers to listen and observe, asking questions and showing a special interest in the role the child is acting out. As an added benefit, look for books that provide more information about your child’s special make-believe character and read them together.


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