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9 Pretend Play Helps Develop Social Skills

Apr 08,2024 | Jennifer Calapit

Good social skills help people navigate through life successfully. These are formed early in life and become harder to change as people grow older.

And this is why the early years are the best time to nurture good social skills. A great way to teach them is through pretend play.

What are these, anyway? Social skills are how well someone understands people, holds conversations, and behaves in certain situations. On the other hand, pretend play is any imaginative activity like storytelling, role-playing, singing, dancing, and using open-ended toys such as puzzles, blocks, dolls, clay, and costumes.

To kids, pretend play is fun and games, but we adults know that playing is practicing and enhancing all areas of intelligence, including social skills.

What Social Skills Are Developed Using Pretend Play?

Kids have a great advantage if they know how to get along with others. Through pretend play, kids learn to:

  • Make friends and build relationships. Friends make kids happy and they learn how to make their friends happy, too. Having other kids to play with fosters a sense of belonging, deters bullying, and increases a child’s quality of life.
  • Sharpen communication skills. More than learning words and ABCs, social skills are expressing oneself through verbal and non-verbal communication. This two-way street is also active listening, shown as the child looking at the speaker’s eyes, nodding, or paraphrasing what was said.
  • Become well-mannered and cultivate self-awareness. Pretend play is a great avenue to practice saying, “Please,” “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “Excuse me”. With a grown-up’s guidance, they also learn not to interrupt when someone else is talking and think about what to say before they say it because their words and actions matter.
  • Be sensitive. By playing different characters in various situations, children learn to understand and accept others’ feelings and perspectives.

Interactions also help them pick up social cues. How does a child react if a playmate gets hurt and starts crying, or if it’s someone’s birthday, or when a teacher furrows their brow and uses a sterner voice?

  • Resolve conflicts. Kids set their own rules during pretend play, and negotiating those rules involves problem-solving and compromises. Everyone involved has to make the effort and agree.
  • Become a team player. “You'll be this and I'll be that.” Pretend play requires children to play different roles and work towards a common goal. They quickly find out that responsibility (being reliable) and teamwork (being able to rely on others) lead to success and celebration.
  • Build resilience and acquire coping skills. Losing in a game isn’t fun, but gentle guidance can help a child learn to handle frustration (self-regulation) and bounce back. They then become more patient, not just with themselves but with others, too.
  • Boost their self-esteem and confidence. Some kids have negative thoughts about themselves when talking to people. With practice and positivity, interactions become successful, which in turn creates a huge impact on their self-esteem.
  • Become independent. Pretend play gives children the opportunity to vocalize what they want, assert themselves, and set boundaries. As long as they’re given the chance, they can share their ideas and learn to say, “No” when necessary.

Here’s an additional perk: pretend play is an effective and enjoyable way to cut back on the use of gadgets. While there are technology benefits, we all know that too much screen time isn’t good for a child’s social skills because it leads to reduced attention span and reduced interaction with others.

The kid are exploring new knowledge with Robud Play Kitchen

Guiding Kids Through Pretend Play

Most times, you won’t have to ask kids to play. They’ll be badgering you for it.

Here are some tips for carers during pretend play:

  1. Be patient. Every child learns at his or her own pace, so no single rule applies to everybody.
  2. Be encouraging. Compliment efforts both big and small. Be generous with positive affirmation, especially to shy kids who make the extra effort to come out of their shells and communicate.
  3. Always make the play space safe. We’re not just talking about child-proofing your house, we also mean an emotionally safe space where kids can be comfortable to be themselves. This is when you validate their thoughts and feelings when they express them.
  4. Give everyone a chance. Some kids will be more assertive than others, so give everyone a turn with the toy or role.
  5. Let them lead. In the same vein, welcome outspoken and confident personalities without leaving others behind. If Jimmy wants to be the doctor, Ken can be the nurse, Ally can be the ambulance driver, and Gemma can be the patient. Just remember that as an adult, you’re still the director.
  6. Address bullying and conflict with “compassionate firmness”. Establish ground rules, encourage inclusivity, and talk to a child one-on-one if bad behavior and bad language need to be addressed. Be a loving authority and educate them about good and bad socialization.
  7. Follow up with reflection. At the end of the activity, look for affirmation that they had fun and that they learned something. This reflective time is where self-awareness is formed.
  8. Model good behavior. Kids will always look at what you do more than what you say. Mind your words, body language, tone, and reactions. And hey, join in yourself and show them it’s okay to have fun at any age!

Better Social Skills, Better Future

Pretend play is simple yet it gives so much value. As we help nurture children’s social skills the right way, we can potentially build a society of well-rounded individuals with healthy relationships, lessen future mental health problems, create a more peaceful world of open-minded individuals, and rear a generation that works together to solve social issues.

And if you’re looking for great toys to use, Robotime has amazing items children will surely enjoy. Our functional Play Kitchen sets promote hours of imaginative play even for young kids.