pretend play with toddlers

The Four Ways to Encourage Pretend Play

The Four Ways to Encourage Pretend Play

Pretend play ideas for toddlers 

As children, we can all remember the joy we had from the ability to imagine a world that  we created in our minds. It could be living in olden times, living on a farm, to even being a  superhero with super strength or the ability to read minds! 

Regardless of what you dreamed up,  as a child, you were able to imagine yourself in nearly any scenario and pretend that you were  truly living in this world even by using a toy as simple as a cardboard box. This feeling and  action is known as pretend play and is incredibly beneficial to children and their development! 

Parents are constantly looking for ways to help their children and pretend play is an  important element in any child’s upbringing. There are a variety of ways for parents to help  support and encourage their children in their pretend play. 

This pretend play helps these  children in a variety of different techniques, such as their social and emotional learning. However, there are a few questions that first must be answered to help parents encourage pretend play.  

First, what is pretend play? 

Defining pretend play is important when initially considering how a parent can support  their child. Pretend play is anytime children are actively engaging with their imagination in a  playful manner. 

This can be seen through children playing “house” and acting as if they are  building a family or even acting as if they are pirates on the seven seas. Both are great examples  of how children engage and enjoy pretend play. 

In some ways, pretend play allows children to  develop certain skills by running through scenarios that they see, whether it’s their parents or  other adults in their lives. This is displayed through when children play “house” or pretend to  engage in daily activities. 

In contrast, but just as important, when children engage in pretend  play that is more imaginative, it also helps them develop creatively which is just as important as  practicing daily skills. Therefore, all versions of pretend play can contribute positively to a  child’s life skills and expand their imagination.  

How does pretend play help my kids?  

Next, the benefits of pretend play are endless. Pretend play helps a child’s development in a variety of ways such as their emotional, social, and mental development. Particularly, we  see that social development is learned through the practice they participate in, specifically when they engage with a parent or a peer.

 Pretend play for toddlers

Children can roleplay through pretend play and  engage socially in a way that is not possible because they are going through scenarios, they  have likely have not yet experienced such as conflict or important conversations.  

Emotionally, it also helps children understand those around them in a unique way.  Especially when they are engaging in pretend play with someone else. They are, again, able to  role play scenarios, such as emotional ones, and begin to understand how their actions may  make someone feel as well as how other actions may make them feel. 

Mentally, pretend play  also helps children develop creatively as well as their critical thinking skills. Through  imagination, children are able to come up with ANY number of scenarios. This allows them to come up with solutions to problems they create in their dream world, and it ultimately gives  them the opportunity to grow in nearly every capacity of their lives. 

These kinds of skills help  children in their daily lives and will be beneficial as they grow up and begin to have life  experiences of their own!  

What age does pretend play most often start? 

Most toddlers begin to engage in pretend play in the first two years of their life, often  beginning to act out, or mimic, things they see adults do. These can include anything from  talking on a phone to even mimicking voices or things adults around them do. This eventually  develops into the pretend play we see in many children. 

Interestingly, most find that pretend  play ends for children at around age 11. Therefore, there is about a 9-year range where pretend  play is an incredibly important part to a child’s growth and development. Therefore, it is  important for parents to be involved and encourage this pretend play throughout these  important years.  

How can I pretend play with my child? 

Parents often ask themselves how they can be playful with their children. In another ToyVentive blog, we discuss how to become more playful as an adult and why it is important. However, now, we are discussing how parents can encourage and pretend play with their child.  

There are a variety of ways in which parents can actively engage with their child. Specifically,  they can get involved with their children in pretend play, something that will be touched on  below. 

In addition, they can encourage their children in a variety of ways by allowing their  children to have fun with their imagination and open their children up to creativity. 

You can be  a part of your child’s pretend play story in so many ways, whether that being their grouchy boss  at work or even their partner in crime.  

Four Ways to Encourage Pretend Play  

There are four major ways in which you as a parent can encourage pretend play in your  children. These are: follow the leader, creativity first, encouragement always, and time. All four  of these provide information for how parents can engage best with their children and help  them along.  

Pretend play ideas

Follow The Leader 

Allowing your child to take the lead in pretend play is an essential part for not only growth but  also enjoyment for your child. When you allow them to use their imagination to decide what  type of pretend play they want to engage in, it is an opening to the child and their creativity.  

Think about it, by allowing your child a bit of independence and imagination, they can truly  show you how creative they are and lead you in the direction your child wants to go! Children  have endless imaginations filled with just about anything and by allowing your child to lead you, 

it not only helps them develop responsibility and leadership skills, but it also allows your child  to trust you and feel like they are able to engage with their parents without judgement.  

Creativity First 

So, we are following the leader, but it is also important to value your child’s creativity and  imagination as the most important part to any time you pretend play with your child. By  allowing them to do and imagine as they please, whether that’s your child being a princess or a  doctor, it allows them to stretch their creativity to whole new bounds. They many end up  wanting to be a princess in space or even a doctor underwater! 

By allowing your child to use  their creativity in this way, it makes a big impact. By helping your child understand they can be  and do anything, you are encouraging their creativity in a huge way. Kids are able to better  understand the world around them when their creativity is opened up. So, don’t be afraid to  encourage even the bizarre! Our guide to preschool creative play will teach you more about the importance of creativity and how it can help pretend play.

Encouragement Always  

You may want to look at your child and say, “A doctor underwater?! No way!”. However, by  allowing and encouraging your child to be completely themselves it leads to an even greater  increase in your child’s personal and social growth. By allowing your child to be anything  they want to be through pretend play, you are opening them up to far more opportunities  when it comes to their social and emotional functions. 

In addition, you are giving them room  for practice, even if it is something as silly as a doctor underwater! It allows your child to use  their endless imagination in a positive, supportive way. Thus, encouragement is incredibly  important when children are engaging in pretend play. If children feel embarrassed or like they  are being corrected, they may be less likely to engage in pretend play which can ultimately be  harmful to certain elements of their development.  


It may sound simple but giving your child time is as essential as encouraging them. They need to  understand that nothing needs to happen immediately, and, beyond that, that pretend play  does not need to happen in just a few minutes. Children can spend hours pretending to be in  one’s own world and parents should encourage this kind of thoughtfulness. 

Time also helps  children fully develop within their pretend play. Just a few moments hardly are enough for a  child to truly let their imagination run wild and become the superhero turned chef they’ve always dreamed of being!

Instead, by allowing time for your child they are able to develop a real story and engage in their pretend play that is simply not possible without time and  encouragement from their parents.  

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Every parent wants to support their child as best as they can. Pretend play is just one of those  many ways in which parents can do this. By encouraging their children in pretend play, parents  are allowing growth in the best way, specifically, mentally, emotionally, and even, socially. Pretend play is something that children love to engage in as it allows them to build a story and life, they never would have previously been able to live. 

Through creativity, leadership, time,  and encouragement, children can explore a variety of life skills they would have never  previously been able to. So, parents, continue to allow your children to be pirates in space and  pioneers in the west, it will only help them grow and become the best versions of themselves! 

Pretend play examples

Pretend play ideas for toddlers

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