The Importance of Imaginative Play

The other day my grandchild was playing dress up and asked me and her grandpa to be her audience. She decided to have a fashion show, and even asked for pencil and paper so she could write down her name and give us her autograph. This image took me back to my own childhood of orchestrating plays on the back porch, playing grocery store at the kitchen table, and dress-up with old clothes in the attic.

This is the magical thinking of childhood that helps the brain develop creativity. This creativity, if allowed to blossom, is the same creativity that helps the scientist discover new cures for diseases, companies to come up with the next technological advances and inventions, and leaders to move their countries into peace.

When your child is little, under the age of two, he understands the world through his senses. But as he grows into his toddler years, and begins to understand the way things operate, he will begin to use his imagination to explain the mysteries of his world. Imaginative play is arguably the most important play your child will ever participate in… more important than all the toys, all the games, and all the things you buy for him to help him enhance his learning.

It is imaginative play that helps your child relate to his feelings and strong emotions, to gain control over his behavior, and to work through his darker thoughts and feelings of anger, fear and guilt. You may be aware of the use of dolls, for example, by therapists and mental health professionals to help children document emotional and physical abuse. Further, pets and other children, and even you, mother or father, can become an actor in your child’s fantasy world. Pets, for example, give children that ally to talk to, dress up and play with, who usually listen and can be manipulated freely. Moreover, imaginative play is both stress-reducing and self-soothing, two very important remedial needs of childhood.

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