The Benefits of Pretend Play For Child Development

There are so many amazing benefits of pretend play. From improving a child’s cognitive abilities to enhancing their creativity, the opportunities for growth are truly endless.

New research is starting to emerge showing just how important this stage of play is during a child’s development.

I hope this article provides you some insight into the amazing benefits of pretend play and how to encourage this type of play at home!

Pretend Play Examples

This type of play is sometimes referred to as imaginative, make-believe, or dramatic play. As children grow and mature the type of pretend play they engage in changes.

Starting from around 12 months of age, children may pretend to sip from a cup, or bring a phone up to their ear and pretend to have a small conversation.

As children get older they start to involve dolls and other props in their pretend play. They will begin acting out scenarios and placing themselves into different roles.

Here are some pretend play examples that older children tend to love:

  • Being superheroes
  • Play cooking
  • Doctor/nurse role play
  • Vet clinic role play
  • Playing teacher
Playing superheroes

The Important Benefits of Pretend Play

Pretend play is a powerful tool to help your child develop. Here are 5 amazing benefits of this type of play.

1. Emotional Regulation

A major school readiness skill for children is the ability to understand and control their emotions and behaviors.

One study from the National Institute of Health concluded that emotional regulation was linked to better academic success and productivity within the classroom.

As children enter into these pretend roles, they learn to control their feelings and have a better understanding of different perspectives. If they are playing in a group setting, they get the added benefit of learning to recognize and respond to others’ feelings and emotions.

2. Executive Functioning

Executive functioning is essentially a set of cognitive skills that include flexibility in thinking, working memory, and planning.

As children engage in pretend play, they have to use their memory and current knowledge to plan, create, and organize different situations.

Many research studies have found that pretend play, especially role-playing, has been linked to greater executive functioning in children.

This benefit alone is a great reason to participate in your little one’s fun scenarios!

3. Language and Communication Skills

Pretend play is one of the best language activities for your child!

When children play make-believe they use words and phrases they might not encounter in everyday life. This is a great way to improve your child’s vocabulary which is an important pre-reading skill!

This type of play also provides children with a sense of control over the conversation. Having control will encourage your child to be more engaged and confident when communicating.

Language development benefit of pretend play

4. Symbolic Thinking

Symbolic thinking is an important part of child development and it is basically the ability to use mental representation.

When children use symbolic thinking they are able to imagine a hairbrush as a microphone or a wooden block as a phone.

This type of thinking is essential because it allows children to understand that a picture of a cat, the word cat, and the letters c-a-t are all ways to express the same thing. They learn to make connections between the meaning of words, objects, and actions.

5. Motor Development

Pretend play is an amazing way to help your child develop their motor skills. During this type of play, children are using and maneuvering their bodies in a way that is different from other types of play.

For example, if children are pretending to be pirates on a ship, they will be running, jumping, and balancing on different objects which will help them develop gross motor skills.

If children are playing dress up, they might have to put on shoes or zip up a superhero suit. As they use their hands and fingers, they are strengthening those fine motor skills which is an important stepping stone for proper handwriting.

Parent involved in pretend play

How To Encourage Pretend Play

You may think you need expensive props and costumes for pretend play, but the truth is you probably have everything you need right in your own home! Basic items can really bring your child’s imagination to life.

Here are a couple tips and tricks to really encourage pretend play.

  • Create a prop corner with cardboard boxes, plastic crates, blankets, old clothes and hats, cooking utensils, and stuffed animals.
  • Get involved in the pretend play and help your child to create stories. Use open-ended questions like ”What should we do now that the car is broken?” to really promote cognitive and language development.
  • Let your child take the lead even if the play is repetitive. Children learn best through play, and there are always new ideas and words you can introduce using the same storyline.


There are so many important benefits of pretend play! Not only is it a healthy part of development, but it is also a fun playtime activity for your little one!

So next time your little ones are destroying the living room as they pretend to be pirates, try to remember how it important pretend play is for their well-being!

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