Tag Archives: childhood

Benefits of Imaginative Play

Benefits of Imaginative Play

Written by: Elise Sledge

“Hurry! Jump on top of your couch and avoid the lava!”

“Whoa… a dinosaur is sleeping in your bed. What should we do?”

“If you were the ruler of a distant planet, what would you do first?”

What is Imaginative Play?

Imaginative play involves role-playing experiences that allow a child to safely explore alternate realities. Imaginative play can look different based on a child’s interests and culture, expressions of feelings and choices. While there are general guidelines for imaginative play, the specifics vary greatly. For example, imaginative play tends to reflect a child’s real experiences, like pretending to be a parent to a doll or playing doctor. This allows children to learn and reflect on different adult roles, which can vary based on culture. Adults can also engage in imaginative play, often taking form in games like Dungeons and Dragons or charades, and meditative practice.


There are numerous benefits to engaging in imaginative play for people of all ages.

  • Fostering Creativity and Problem Solving
    • In imaginary play, there is no limit to what can happen. Whales can swim in the sky, a 6-year-old can be President, and supervillains can climb through the TV to attack at any moment! To engage in imaginative play is to use creativity, as imaginative play involves solving unique problems, telling detailed stories, and taking new perspectives. Creativity is an important skill to develop because it can reduce stress and allow for self-expression, which has life-long benefits.
  • Developing Social Skills
    • During imaginative play, children learn to take turns, share, and work together. Sometimes play involves limited roles and props; children must learn to share responsibilities and wait to take on their role. Engaging in play with one’s community (e.g., classroom, neighborhood, after-school program) also increases feelings of connectedness, confidence, and self-reliance.
  • Developing Emotional Skills
    • Learning and practicing different perspectives in play can allow children to practice caring for others and showing empathy. They can also practice managing unpleasant emotions, as the characters they play may encounter difficult situations. Practicing these emotions will prepare them to handle the same emotions in their own lives. This can help to decrease anxiety when facing new emotions and situations.
  • Develop Language Skills
    • Engaging in imaginative play often requires communication between many characters, whether the characters are real or imaginary. Describing and narrating what is happening increases children’s vocabulary and language skills. Increased skills can lead to more comfort in social situations, as children learn about the influence of oral language and how to use it to create and tell stories.

How to Encourage Imaginative Play

  • Help your children to have new experiences. Go for a walk around your neighborhood, visit a new store, explore a park, or ride the public bus. While you are out, talk with your children about what is going on around them, ask questions, and teach them how you would respond in certain situations.
  • At home, encourage children to use their imagination with everyday objects. Surprise them with a sword battle from a paper towel roll or lay down a bath towel for a beach day in the living room. Bring the magic to them by introducing new scenarios. Once they understand the theme, let them take the lead and ask them “what happens next?” Props can be important, and they can be made from anything in the house. If you prefer your kids to use certain props over others, it could be helpful to create a designated space for their imaginative play. Having a specific drawer or basket of items like old clothes, office supplies, or scrap paper can provide kids the freedom and opportunity to engage in imaginative play. Cardboard boxes can be trains, planes, or spaceships!
  • Get involved when you can! As your child permits, take on your own role in their story. You can be anyone you want to be!
  • Common scenarios for imaginative play:
    • Role-play different professions like doctor, teacher, or singer
    • Fight supervillains and play superheroes
    • Play as parents
    • Pretend to travel

Feeling Stuck?

Sometimes it is hard as an adult to engage in imaginative play. It can feel silly or embarrassing, and it may be difficult to think of new ideas. It takes practice! It may feel unnatural and uncomfortable at first, so it is important to remember that imaginary play is limitless. What is “right” or “wrong” is up to whoever is playing! Also, it could be helpful to utilize the internet to make some DIY props or lead fun, new scenarios. Use sites like Pinterest or watch guided visualization videos on YouTube for inspiration.

Get your friends and partners involved, too! If fighting invisible superheroes with your kid is not the first step you would like to take, try playing charades, creative writing, or going outside to explore with friends. Take photos of your community on your phone or camera as if you are a visiting tourist. If you look for inspiration, you will find it!

Enjoy exploring new worlds with your children and friends!

Sibling Rivalry

Sibling Rivalry

Written by: Cassie McKenzie

One minute, your children are playing basketball and are competing to see who can get the most points. The next minute, they are yelling about who gets to toss the basketball in first. By the time you get close to them, they are crying and refusing to play with each other.

As youth reach different stages of development, their individualized needs can significantly impact how they connect with each other. Sibling rivalry is characterized by jealousy and aggression between brothers and sisters, which can be a frustrating experience for everyone involved.

Some sibling rivalry is natural – competition does not have to be a bad thing! In some cases, rivalry may encourage siblings to improve their skills or refine their hobbies. In other instances where siblings are engaging with each other aggressively, such as verbally or physically fighting, it may be a good idea for adults to intervene.

Why Does Sibling Rivalry Occur?

• Need for Stimulation and Experience

Like all behavior, sibling rivalry is often driven by children’s feelings and needs. Perhaps children are bored and in need of something to do, or perhaps they feel as if another sibling is getting a different experience than they are. Every child will describe their needs and preferences in different ways, and this type of communication can be particularly difficult for children with diverse communication styles. This perceived disconnect between experiencing and expressing emotions may lead to frustration and anger for both siblings, otherwise known as the double empathy problem. Being aware of the double empathy problem can offer parents and children context about the dynamics of social interactions.

• Need for Power and Validation

Engaging in conflicts with others is a lifelong experience. Learning to manage conflict respectfully is a learned skill. It is possible that siblings engage in competitive behavior to achieve more independence and increase their interpersonal competency. Sibling rivalry may help children understand how to navigate disputes with others.

• Need for Differentiation

Every child is working to identify the likes and talents that make them unique, and sometimes this process is complicated by siblings. All of us are unique but learning this may not come naturally for children who grow up with siblings. This means that interests and hobbies for a younger sibling may mimic that of an older sibling, which may lead to competitive behavior.

How Can Sibling Rivalry Be Mitigated?

• Setting Boundaries

Communicating boundaries with children lets them know what is expected of them. Boundaries in the context of sibling rivalry may be having your children ask before taking their sibling’s toys, or perhaps having a set time that each child gets to play with a specific toy. When children meet expectations, parents and adults may consider rewarding the productive and desired behavior. Group Contingency is a behavior management tool that can be utilized interdependently and can help parents foster a culture of respect between siblings.

• Turn Taking

Practicing turn taking can encourage siblings to engage in prosocial behavior. Taking turns amongst siblings can also translate to taking turns with peers at school, or in other settings. Many children want to go first, and finish first. Taking turns can give siblings the opportunity to practice the social skills necessary to learn how to lose gracefully, exchange power appropriately, and respect the needs of others.

• Calming Conflict Collaboratively

For adults, it can be difficult to stay calm and neutral while coming into a situation where children are upset with each other. Perhaps there is a perceived slight, or potential situations where conflict is likely to occur. Using empathetic statements, or “I feel” statements, can encourage children to speak about their emotions, which may help everyone come to a better understanding. Adults can encourage “I feel” statements by asking each child, “Why do you think fighting is happening?”, which gives each child the opportunity to discuss what they perceive to be a fact. Adults may also encourage children to identify their own solutions to sibling rivalry, as children are more likely to utilize the solution if it was their idea.

Additional resources for managing sibling rivalry:

Parenting Your Children Through Sibling Rivalry

Sibling Rivalry by Autism, Advocacy, and Intervention

Understanding and Managing Sibling Rivalry

COVID-19, Return to School, and Children’s Mental Health

COVID-19, Return to School, and Children’s Mental Health

Written by: Sarah Kaufman

The COVID-19 pandemic shifted many aspects of student’s daily lives. Support may be necessary to improve children’s mental health during this time. Read more to learn about how the COVID-19 Pandemic affects student mental health and discover what can be done in school and at home to support young learners.

Children’s Mental Health During the Early Days of the COVID-19 Pandemic

In March of 2020 school environments quickly and radically changed. When the COVID-19 pandemic began almost all schools across the country shifted to some version of remote learning. Students’ extracurriculars were halted and almost all forms of socialization were paused. Additionally, mental health services shifted to remote platforms, and we began to see increases in depression and anxiety in children and teens. By September of 2021, 18 months into the pandemic, most schools returned to in-person learning. However, many students fell behind academically, were anxious about returning to school, and presented with behavior challenges.

Current State of COVID-19 and Children’s Mental Health

When students return to in-person school, any pre-existing anxiety regarding school may surface, along with new fears of getting sick. Additionally, students may feel anxious about re-engaging with difficult academic content. Given that remote schooling disrupted students’ social networks, there may be disappointment, confusion, or sadness with new or changed norms and friendships in the return-to-school environment. Some students may experience ongoing COVID-related trauma due to losing a loved one or isolating from a sick family member, which could lead to grief and ongoing worry. Some students might also experience economic hardships from the pandemic, including unstable housing or food and work insecurities.

What Can Be Done in School and at Home?

  1. Increase School Connectedness
    1. It is important that schools continue to encourage family involvement during student’s return to school. The more supported and connected students feel, the faster they will readjust to a school-based learning environment. It is also important that schools consider any barriers to engagement that families may face. Personal connections are needed now more than ever. Positive messages at school and at home can increase these feelings of connection. When looking at strategies to promote mental health during the return to school, it has been shown that the most successful schools focus first on rebuilding the school community. The CDC also recommends that educators schedule virtual calls or tours with parents to share about their students’ experiences.

  1.  De-stigmatize Mental Health
    1. Parents and educators can remind their children that increased anxiety or stress is normal. Having additional stress is common during hard times, and parents and educators may feel this as well. It is important to inform all students of available resources. Supporting children’s social-emotional well-being through positive, inclusive, and safe classrooms and home climates, as well as building strong relationships, promotes mental health. The CDC also has resources to help individuals take care of themselves during stressful times.

  1. Universal Support and Screening
    1. Increasing numbers of children have needed services upon returning to school during the COVID-19 Pandemic. It is important to implement rapidly available strategies and support within schools. Schools can aim to establish or enhance universal, school-wide screening for social-emotional and behavioral needs, as well as incorporate the perspectives of families and students into this screening. Some recommendations and strategies for incorporating Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) can be found here.

Additional resources for supporting children coming back to school:

Going back to school after the coronavirus lockdown – Animated video for children