Children learn every day. Whether it’s a new word, mastering the use of a spoon, or taking their first steps, they’re constantly gathering new information and making sense of it in their own way. One of the major developmental skills children learn from early infancy is social-emotional development.
Social-emotional development helps children to explore their environment, understand emotions, and form and maintain relationships. Through these skills, kids are able to build emotional intelligence, which is the ability to manage and express one’s emotions as well as the emotions of others.
Building Emotional Intelligence in Children
Children, particularly toddlers, experience big emotions. They’re still learning to navigate what they’re feeling and what it all means, and at times, they don’t know how to manage these emotions—picture an epic toddler meltdown because their sippy cup is the wrong color. To parents and caregivers, this may seem like an overreaction, but to young children, they simply don’t know how to express what they’re feeling.
By developing emotional intelligence, children gain emotional awareness, the ability to use those emotions and put them into practice, and how to manage their own emotions and help others to do the same.
So, how can parents and caretakers help children to navigate these emotions and develop emotional intelligence and social skills? There are several approaches, but one way—and an incredibly fun one—is through pretend play.
Social and Emotional Development in Early Childhood
From infancy to the age of two, children build a foundation for emotional intelligence. By ages three and four, kids become aware of their emotions and how their actions affect those around them. By five and six, many children can understand the emotions of others and relate to how others feel.
Through each of these stages, pretend play is a great way for children to navigate how they feel. Little ones will mimic emotions they see in others and act out different roles. This kind of play enables children to grasp what these emotions mean and how they fit into different social scenarios.
By pretending to be different characters—a princess, chef, dog, superhero, or anything their minds dream up—children are able to experiment with various social and emotional roles in life. They learn who they are as an individual, what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, and how the world works. Pretend play also allows kids to learn what they like, what they don’t like, and what they’re good at.
Pretend play toys, such as the Lifestyle Dream Kitchen™, allow children to immerse themselves fully in their imaginations. They can pretend to cook, wash dishes, and serve their friends or stuffed animals. It’s a great way for them to learn manners, responsibility, and what it means to contribute to the household—they also get a feel for how hard mom and dad work to take care of them!
Empathy & Social Skills Development in Children
Through role playing, children develop empathy. By pretending to be someone else, they walk in another person’s shoes, learn different perspectives, and learn how to help others when they’re struggling with different emotions.
When kids role play together, they learn to cooperate, agree on roles, and negotiate rules and scenarios of the game. This all requires cooperation, collaboration, and understanding others. Through imagination games and role playing, children learn that other people have different opinions and views. They become aware of opposing perspectives and how to interpret different emotions.
Whether they’re playing house and collaborating in a play kitchen, such as the Elegant Edge Kitchen™, or working together to build a project with the Pro Play Workshop & Utility Bench™, children learn the importance of working together as a team and learn to manage and regulate their own emotions in order to play with others.
Putting Emotional Awareness into Practice
Learning to manage big emotions and new situations can also be practiced through pretend play. If your family is about to undergo a big change, using pretend play is a great way to prepare your little one and help them regulate their feelings.
For example, if your family is expecting a new baby, use a doll to introduce the idea to them. Explain that a new baby is on the way, and ask them to help you take care of the baby doll in the meantime. Pretend the baby doll is crying and ask your little one what they think they need: a new diaper, some food, or perhaps they want to be read a book.
Ask your child what they like to do when they’re feeling sleepy, tired, or sad. This is all great practice in helping them understand their emotions, what the baby may be feeling, and to grasp the concept of a new baby coming into the picture.
With the Love & Care Deluxe Nursery™, your little one can take care of their baby dolls and practice what it’ll be like with a new baby at home. It also helps them to understand how life may change when mom and dad have to split their attention between them and their new sibling.
Pretend play is also a great way to help your child conquer scary situations. To help them conquer their fears, use role playing as a way to help them express themselves. If they’re afraid of going to the doctor, play doctor at home. You can create pretend scenarios where your little one takes care of you, their dolls, or your pets. Reverse roles and have them tell you what’s hurting them. This is a great way for your child to express what they may be afraid of and help them to navigate their fears.
Through role playing games and pretend play, you can help your child understand new situations and big emotions. You can help them prepare for what’s to come and take on a new approach to something that may intimidate them. They’ll also gain a new sense of confidence when they’re able to understand what’s happening and understand why they’re feeling a particular emotion.
Using Pretend Play to Encourage Social-Emotional Development
Your child learns a lot through their first few years of life. Through pretend play and role playing, your child will learn how to properly express their feelings, regulate their emotions, and develop empathy towards others. They’ll learn what it means to be a part of society and how to work well with others—plus, they’ll be doing it all in the name of fun!
With pretend play toys from Step2, your little one can dive into these imagination games while working together with friends and building emotional awareness. Playtime is even better when it’s helping your little one grow into a confident, well-adjusted person!
How will you use pretend play and role playing to help your child develop social-emotional skills? Have you used this technique to help your little one before? Comment below!