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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Using Imaginary Play with Your Child

Recently I’ve been sharing some of the skills involved in filial therapy, including structuring and empathic listening. Today we’ll take a look at how imaginary play helps children learn and grow, and how playing with your child can strongly benefit your relationship.

What is Imaginary Play?

Imaginary play occurs when a child asks you to enact a role in their play, much like a director would ask of an actor in the theater. When a child invites you to take on an imaginary role with them, they are engaging you in a very active process. Whereas empathic listening involves reflections of the child’s feelings from an observational standpoint, imaginary play is all about participation.

There are Several Ways to Take on Such a Role: 
  1. One option is to ask the child what they’d like to see in the role. For example, if the child assigns you the role of teacher, you might ask if you’re a strict teacher or a relaxed teacher.
  2. Another option is to play the role however you feel. In this example, you might start off as a relaxed teacher and then become strict (or introduce another character to the play).
  3. In Filial Therapy, the suggestion is to read the child’s tone and guess what they’re looking for, trusting that they will tell you if you are wrong. For example, you might begin as a teacher giving directions in a neutral tone, and the child may then instruct or direct you to, “Be mean!” or, “Pretend you’re really nice.” 
Why it’s Important to Consider These Factors or Play a Certain Way?

In everyday life, play can be flexible and dynamic, with both parties contributing to the story line. However, if your goal is to better understand and connect with your child’s concerns and issues, you may want to give option 3 a try. When you’re able to play the character the way the child directs, you’ll have a better chance at relating to your child’s needs and helping him or her work through any questions or situations with which they may need help.

How Can Imaginary Play Help Kids?

Imaginary Play allows the child to try out different ways of acting and to take another’s perspective. It allows the child to take risks and within the confines of a safe environment to help develop a sense of self. If you’re able to respond to your child’s wishes for the play, you’ll likely find that your child will look to connect with you as well.

Emily Herber McLean, LPC is a child and family therapist at The Center for Psychological Services. To learn more about her practice, visit www.centerpsych.com.
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