What, you can’t imagine why looking under the bed for that elusive hairy monster with beady black eyes could be a good thing?
Actually, being able to imagine things –even unpleasant ones- is critical to your child’s development. Here’s why:
1) Being able to picture things in his mind is the first step towards abstract thinking.
When your child brandishes a stick and calls it a sword, it shows he can use one object to represent another. That means he will be able to conceptualize something that isn’t right in front of him. He’s no longer limited to the here and now. He is now the shaper of his future.
2) Imagination helps children realize that there are consequences to their behavior.
Everything that we do has a consequence. Consequences, however, are not necessarily negative; they simply mean that when you do one thing, something else happens.
As a baby your child learned that when they cried, you came. They also learned that when they shook a rattle, it made a noise, or when they kicked their feet, their body moved. As a children get older, they can use their imagination to picture their behavior, and to imagine the response that takes place. That allows them to experiment with things in their mind without actually having to carry out the act.
Instead of grabbing her favorite toy from her little sister’s hands, your child can now anticipate that a crying sister means an unhappy mom. Translation: I’d better find a different way of getting my toy back.
3) Pretending lets children have in fantasy what they can’t have in reality.
We can’t always have what we want, nor is it always best to. Your child can enjoy the fun of sleeping out in the wilds of Africa, going to the ball in a pumpkin coach, or experience what it’s like having a friend who knows exactly what you like.
4) Play can help your child express his feelings safely.
Most parents know that children’s emotions show up in their play.
You don’t, however, need to be a play therapist in order for your child to benefit from expressing her feelings through play. Ever put a child in time-out, only to see your child putting their beloved bear in time-out also?
You can use that opportunity to help your child understand her feelings about being disciplined with a simple, “Oh, so your bear had a hard time listening today?” Or, you can just watch and enjoy the show; either way, your child has an opportunity to express how she feels without criticism.