Campbell Fiver Family Network

Imaginary Play – Helpful or Harmful

In the past, when parents thought about educating their children they tended to think about the basics – reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Media provided them with many ways to focus on these aspects of learning – flashcards, dvds, games, etc.

Dating myself, I remember as a child, playing ‘cops and robbers’ with the neighbourhood kids.  We were somehow assigned roles, often through negotiation, and off we went.  The ‘cops’ tracked down the ‘robbers’ and escorted them to ‘jail’, usually a tree that we had agreed upon before starting the game.  During the game we used and developed many skills  - problem solving; communication; team work; self-confidence; controlling our emotions.

Now children have many ‘role models’ on which to base imaginary play.

Role models can be professionals in their lives such as doctors, police, firefighters, pilots; or fictional characters from favorite stories, movies, or television programs. The most common themes of imaginary play are preventing or getting away from some type of danger.  

Children will often pretend they must conquer a monster or bad guy. By trying on these different roles, children learn how to express emotions, worries, and wishes.   This gives them a sense of power and control that they lack in their daily interactions with adults. Although violent programming has been found to have a negative impact on some young children, in truth, violence has been characteristic of the play and storytelling of 3 – 6 year olds since long before the advent of movies or television.

Aggression is instinctual in us human beings. As long as your child isn’t aggressive with peers and family, there is no need to worry if some imaginary play involves violent themes.

 ( Dr. C.E. Schaefer & T.F. KiGeronimo, Ages & Stages 2000)

Imaginary play gives your child an opportunity to experience, regulate, and express emotions in socially and culturally appropriate ways. Through imaginary play your child builds their social and emotional skills. Children tend to be better at concentrating on tasks, have more self-control, and be creative in solving problems.

Young children’s healthy social and emotional development is critical to school readiness and positive longterm outcomes (National Research Council & Institute of Medicine, 2000;Raver & Knitzer, 2002; Thompson & Raikes, 2007).

Why is this so important?  In his book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goldman explores why emotional intelligence may matter more than intellectual intelligence (or IQ).  Emotional intelligence refers to our abilities to motivate ourselves; persist when frustrated; control impulses and delay gratification; to regulate our moods; to keep distress from swamping our ability to think; to empathize; and to hope.  All of which are important skills for our children to develop.  We need recognize the importance our children’s social and emotional development.

Debbie Griffiths,
Program Manager, Supported Child Development Program
Campbell River & District Association for Community Living


Campbell Fiver Family Network