Fantastical Thinking is Critical in your Child's Development

“In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s so true! This “adult” thing is overrated anyway, don’t you think? In fact, I think one of best reasons to spend time with children is that it gives us permission to play…again. Remember when we believed in magic, fairy tales, and fantasy? We were certain that with a little fairy dust we could fly?! Our children still do—let’s not rush this wonderful time. Make-believe may seem like an escape for grown-ups, and maybe it is. But for children, fantastical thinking is the very foundation of their learning. Through fantasy, children begin to make sense of their world.

“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.” ~ Lloyd Alexander, author of the Chronicles of Pyrdaivn

Fantasy is also a coping mechanism. Psychologically, fantasy helps the child fill in the gaps between knowledge, reality, and experience. Take something potentially frightening, for example: a child hears something go bump in the night. If he doesn’t know what it is, he might think, “Maybe it’s the tooth fairy checking to see if we have lost a tooth?” His ability to fantasize has made something scary into something fun.

Fantasy is also a great vehicle for processing complex emotions. For children, emotions can be confusing, and sometimes they are just too big to process. Through acting out scenarios like Super Hero play, they can face pretend challenges and practice being brave or strong in the face of adversity. When children are feeling lonely or missing their mom, they might act out nurturing scenarios where they make others feel better, thereby making themselves feel better. Through fantasy, children create safe spaces to tackle tough feelings.

Fantasy stories provide a contextual framework within which children draw parallels between the characters’ lessons and real-life lessons, such as believing in yourself, or telling the truth. Two great examples are The Little Engine That Could. He thought he could, and he did! Or The Boy Who Cried Wolf; he repeatedly did not tell the truth, and so when he did, no one believed him.

Need more reasons to play? The importance of play in child development has been well documented. Here are some of the ways play benefits a child’s social/emotional, physical, cognitive, language and reading development:

  • Play enhances children’s creativity and problem-solving.
  • Play contributes to the development of self-regulation and social skills, such as turn-taking, collaboration and following rules, empathy, and motivation.
  • Children who play out events in a story have improved story comprehension and develop a stronger understanding that others have different feelings, thoughts, views and beliefs.
  • Positive links between children’s dramatic play and early reading achievement have been found.
  • Children who engage in social and dramatic play are better able to take others’ perspectives, and are viewed as more intellectually and socially competent by their teachers.

So you see, fantasy play is critical for your child’s development. With it, we inspire imagination, creativity, curiosity, and even bravery. Your child will be more confident and hopeful when he or she believes anything is possible. All this, while giving them the tools needed to make sense of their world—a world that, even adults admit, doesn’t always make sense.

Naturally, an article like this will need a moral of the story. The moral is simple. The next time you wonder, “Is it more important to do the chores or play with my child?” by all means, play with your child! You can call it “child development.”

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