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Nurture Your Child’s Imagination

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I received an email via our iPhone App from a mom who was concerned about her 4 year old’s imagination.  She was wondering “what is a healthy imagination” as he seems to have lived several past lives by his description.

I just love 4 year olds, they are actually one of my favorite ages, as they are so talkative, inquisitive and do have wonderful imaginations.  They are often content to “play” in their own world or you may be a lucky enough parent or friend that they “invite” you into their imaginary world too.

A child’s imagination is a very important part of early childhood development.  Many experts believe that allowing children to develop their imaginations may actually be more important than constraining a child with academic skills such as learning letters and numbers.

To that idea, look at most developmental pre-school programs. While they do have structure for circle times with reading,  or games that involve beginning letter recognition or learning your telephone number, a preschoolers day is also filled with play. Much of that play  may be done in the “kitchen” within the classroom where many pretend meals are made, served and cleaned up.

There are usually blocks to build huge imaginary cities and a child rules over his or her own kingdom.  The dress up box is always a favorite for preschoolers of both genders as they dress up to be a clown or  princess or even the teacher.

I used to love watching my boys play with their stuffed animals and I would occasionally catch them being the “mean” parent and disciplining their animals for fighting and putting them in the “time-out” rocking chair while discussing with each of them the art of sharing.  They might not be able to share with their brothers, but they were good at teaching their dolls and stuffed bears how to.  Such cute memories.

By allowing children to think creatively and imaginatively, you are also helping them become more adaptable to other situations while also learning self-regulation.  Unfortunately, computers, video games and many battery operated toys have changed a child’s imaginary play in a negative way.

Children as young as 2 years, with even limited verbal skills, will sit passively watching a DVD on their mother’s phone or even use the video game controller or computer keyboard to turn on the sound,  but do not have the opportunity to play with Tupperware and wooden spoons or sit on the floor with blocks.

I am not worried that today’s children will not be adept at using a cell phone or computer when needed. I am concerned that they will not have had the opportunity to take old boxes to build forts, or hang sheets on their beds hooked together with clothespins to make a tent for the pretend camping trip.

Making up stories, games and far away places is an integral part of childhood. Eating mud pies, and tea made with rocks is too.  Applaud your child’s imagination and if you are fortunate, you will have an afternoon to spend with them in “their own world”.

That’s your daily dose.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

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