Playful Parenting

imaginative play

Playful Parenting

How to spark imaginative play and keep you and your child interested.

Photograph: Fotofox Images

When you’re a parent, you may find a time when you need to dig deep to remember how to use your imagination. When the tiredness sets in, excited imaginative play wanes. Am I right?

Playing with a little person can get a little boring if you don’t rekindle your relationship with your imagination. It’s worth making the effort and finding time to set aside for some imaginative play. 

Imaginative play a great way to bond with your child (no matter their age). It also gives them opportunities to express themselves and develop their language and communication skills. They will learn how to share their ideas, and learn about empathy and taking turns.

Use what’s around you for inspiration

Perhaps it will help your kids make sense of their world. Imaginative play provides a safe space for kids to work through big emotions. They can make sense of things they have seen, heard or learned from others. 

In January 2011, I was stuck at home with my son while we all waited for the rain to stop. In one desperate attempt to entertain him (and myself, let’s be honest) I lined up every plane, Thomas train and automobile. We piled every soft toy aboard for an evacuation convoy through the house, rescuing stranded dinosaurs as we travelled to safety.  It was one of our more creative (and fun) moments together. 

We can so easily get caught up the rush of daily/weekly life. Look for opportunities to have some down time together and observe what’s happening around you. Taking time to be mindful allows us to nourish our children’s imaginations and curiosity. ​It can be very rewarding to watch a child’s creativity flourish. The benefit for the child is even better! They will discover new things to do or be interested in once they get past the boredom. When kids develop this skill it can be a relief to parents and an achievement for the child. It also gives them confidence in their ability to use their imaginations. 

Follow your child’s lead

In fact it’s preferable if your child is leading the way with your imaginative play. Their ideas are good ones. Tell them so. Leave out the factual questions when you play, like “What sound does a dinosaur make?”. Boring. Instead follow along with the excitement of the storyline. “I wonder who we will pick up next?”, “Where on earth are we going to fit this T-Rex!”

Children will enjoy feeling capable. Giving them freedom to work things out for themselves and solve problems will fill their power bucket a little. We can avoid power struggles later on in the day if we give them time to feel in control.

Continue with imaginative play as they grow older

As kids get older they face new challenges. That’s no secret. A little imagination can help older children process social interactions. Finding humour in a difficult situation can help diffuse conflict and help us relate to one another in a new way.

Of course, it’s important to ensure kids understand that we don’t laugh at each other, we laugh at the situation. My daughter came home the other day and told me about a funny thing that happened at school. One of the students knocked over a full water bottle on the bag rack making a huge mess and wetting many bags and books. Everyone was hysterical – frantically and ineffectively they tried to mop up the water with tissues. No doubt to diffuse the situation and calm the chaos, their teacher appeared with a cushion from the reading couch inside the classroom to soak up the water. This resulted in a lot of laughter from all the kids. 
A little imagination from us adults can go a long way!

~ Amy

You can read more from the experts on the benefits of using your imagination in a variety of situations in these articles:

How to help children process grief and loss through play

The importance of imagination in professions from engineering to the arts.

Parental Coping Skills: How to use humour to defuse fights with your child.