5 Reasons You Should Encourage Kids to Use Their Imaginations

posted: 07/31/15
by: Mara Betsch

Imagination and make-believe can be a touchy topic with parents. On one hand, you want your children to be creative and think outside the box, but on the other, you also want them to understand some of the harsher parts of reality. The good news is, though, that encouraging kids to use their imagination can actually help them accept reality. Here are five important ways make-believe can help children long after they grow up.

It helps them understand the past

Imagination helps children learn about people and places they haven't experienced first-hand, making them more open to new experiences. It can also help them comprehend historical events. Imagine how ridiculous it sound when we explain that people used to think the world was flat. A child with an active imagination will be able to understand and also comprehend why we don't anymore.

...And think about the future

When it comes to choosing a career, allowing kids to dream up interesting jobs is one small step in helping them choose a career path. Letting them think big and exploring their talents is one way to encourage them to seek out new professions.

It teaches them to cope with emotions

Studies show that by play-acting, children get to express their positive and negative emotions, and by emulating others, they learn what it means to be sad, happy, angry, etc. It also teaches what psychologists call "executive function," which includes the ability to self-regulate and self-discipline themselves. A 1999 study had young children play with puppets and then asked questions about their understanding of emotions. They found that there was a clear relationship between fantasy play and better emotional comprehension.

Role-playing games build problem-solving skills

By pretending to be a princess or a superhero or even a parent, kids may unknowingly gain an appreciation for that person's talents and challenges. Taking on different roles allows kids to step into someone else's shoes, and, in the process, develop social skills like communication, problem-solving and empathy.

It helps their creativity skyrocket

This will come as no surprise, but pretend play stretches kids' minds, makes them consider different possibilities, and ultimately, think creatively. Studies show that early imaginative play is associated with more creativity later in life. Michelle and Robert Root-Bernstein have done a lot of research on the topic, and they've found that exceptionally creative people like Nobel Prize winners and MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant awardees are more likely to create imaginary, make-believe worlds than those in a control group.