Pretend Play: Understanding Other People and Building Emotional IQ

Pretend Play: Understanding Other People and Building Emotional IQ

How Does Pretend Play Increase Social Consciousness?

Lottie Doll Be Kind Pretend Play toy

Pretend play often gets relegated to the bottom of the list when it comes to the importance that adults ascribe to them. 'Just pretending' or 'make-believe' doesn't seem as developmentally 'useful' as a toy that helps with numeracy, or with learning to read (the ones that many people refer to as 'educational').

However, some of the most important skills we develop lie in our ability to interact with others and no amount of counting will offer the same assistance in this compared to the human capacity to think through complex social problems. The toys that do this are not abacuses (would that be abaci?) or spelling cards, they're literally a little closer to home.

(pictured is the 'Be Kind' Lottie Doll)

Pretend Play helps kids to test-run social interactions

Playmobil Take Along take and play Pretend Play case school 5662

One of the more complex (and arguably one of the most important) roles which pretend-play has in development is its ability to foster a deeper understanding of social behaviours.

Social concepts like fairness, friendship, appropriateness, manners, and a host of others are some of the most complex, information-rich problems we humans have to deal with.

Luckily human beings are also pretty good at social stuff (not always great, but often 'pretty good' will do). Pretend-play can play an important part in aiding children in learning the best ways to interact with others.

Dummy versions of social encounters can be played out over and over again ad nauseam during pretend-play. This repetition is fairly common in preschool and early primary-aged children; whether this is a tea party, petrol station etiquette with toy cars, it could be teddies taking turns bouncing on the bed, or the prevalent pretend-classroom activities we see when children enter early school years.

All of these activities allow children to run and rerun social behaviours and experiment with how these encounters might feel from different perspectives (sometimes the child is the teacher, sometimes the pupil, sometimes different pupils with different ways of behaving).

(pictured is the Playmobil Take Along School Play Set)

Pretend-play offers a worry-free 'Beta Test'

Children play these scenarios out in this harmless pretend environment. It's something that a software developer might refer to as a 'sandbox', which simply means that they can simulate an activity without it effecting the wider world around it. The 'sandbox' allows children to try out dry-runs of different behaviours. To use another game development term; it allows the child to 'beta-test' their behaviour and imagine what the results might be.

They may be wrong, of course, but even here we can see how play could help them. With a combination of social play-acting and the repeating of difficult events, children could utilise their pretend play to better understand what went wrong and figure out which behaviours might work better next time.

Why it helps for Pretend-Play to stay 'pretend'

Replaying difficult or challenging events is something we all do. We might think back on that party when we put our foot in it and criticised the music, only to find that it's a CD by the host's band, or we might have told a friend that we've ruled out a particular name for our new baby, only to find that they've chosen it for their own baby. These interactions will play over and over in our heads, sometimes jumping up to offer that cringy feeling when we least expect it.

Rag Doll Boy

However, we're adults, and we've developed a little of the emotional strength and stability needed to push back against these events. We know that we can't go back and change our actions but we can use our cringiest memories to influence our future social behaviour.

Younger children are in the very earliest stages of developing this degree of social maturity. They make mistakes in their behaviour all the time, and often it might be hard to see what they might have done wrong.

Pretend play can be a simple, clean, way for them to distance themselves from their memories and look at what might have gone wrong in isolation, with the volume on their emotional reaction turned down.

Normal household items can, of course, be used but if we're looking at a means for children to step out of their own memories then using the same plates and cutlery they did when something went wrong at dinner might make it difficult to distance themselves emotionally. A pretend play dinner set might be exactly the tool/prop that they need to help them get the emotional distance they need.

(Pictured is one of Lanka Kade's lovely Fair Trade Rag Dolls)

Pretend Play isn't reliant on 'play-only' props, but they can help

Playmobil pretend play dentist set

There are countless other ways in which children learn and many of these do not require specific props or environments but for pretend-play, even a rudimentary set of objects and characters can offer a surprising range of developmental assistance.

We know from personal experience that children can have all sorts of fun with wooden spoons, pots and pans, old broken hair driers, and a host of other household items. However, we can also attest to the fact that pretend play sets offer a whole dimension of alternative play.

Whether it's a Playmobil dentist set to help a child cope with their nerves about visiting the dentist, or a play set that matches their parent's job in a way that helps them see why mummy or daddy are away for a few hours every day.

Pretend play is a different play category. It fits within the overall bracket of 'imaginative play' but the props used offer specific assistance for young children as they develop their understanding of the world around them and the social situations that come with that world.

A few of our favourite Pretend Play toys

We aren't trying to force the issue but we would also be remiss as a toy shop if we didn't point you towards some of our own favourite pretend-play toys.

Our website is constantly being updated so this section will often change and shift. However, you will always find some of the very best pretend-play toys that we stock when you click this link. We hope you enjoy taking a look and feel free to tell us what you thought about this post either on our Facebook page or over on Twitter.


Thanks, as always, for popping by our web site,

All the best,

The Fun Junction Team

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