Drama Kings & Queens

by Dana Smith Bader
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 If you have a 16 year old at home, you are very familiar with the terms “Drama Queen” and “Drama King,” and my guess is that you do whatever you can to minimize their constant drama. In early years, however, we celebrate drama. When children talk to each other, give voices to toys, play pretend (by going to the doctor, school, or restaurant, or by acting like they are cooking or cleaning at home), play with puppets, pretend to be animals in a jungle, role play characters in their favorite story, or imitate adults, they are participating in dramatic and social play, which is essential for their development.

A child’s pretend play in classrooms or at home is often considered fun and imaginative, but with limited educational value. The truth is, in the midst of creating a restaurant together, clomping around in grown-up shoes, or twirling around with friends in a fairytale land, children are learning to solve problems, coordinate, cooperate, and think flexibly. Moreover, they learn:

  • How to communicate, negotiate, and take turns.
  • New vocabulary and language skills.
  • About their environment and the world around them.
  • About their influence in the world and self-discipline.
  • About roles, responsibilities, and relationships.
  • How to care, be compassionate, display empathy, and express emotions.
  • The relevance of symbols and how they are used to represent other things in life.

More specifically, child psychologists have observed that children develop important complex social and higher order thinking skills with dramatic play. Pretend play is much more than simple play activities; it requires advanced thinking strategies, communication, and social skills. Through pretend play, in addition to learning to negotiate, children learn to consider others’ perspectives, transfer knowledge from one situation to another, delay gratification, balance their own ideas with others, develop a plan and act on it, explore symbolism, express and listen to thoughts and ideas, assign tasks and roles, and synthesize different information and ideas.

In addition, children involved in social and dramatic play cultivate social and emotional intelligence. How we interact with others is key to our lifelong success and happiness. Knowing how to read social cues, recognize and regulate emotions, negotiate and take turns, and engage in a long-term activity that is mutually beneficial are no easy tasks. In fact, there is no substitute for creative and imaginative play when it comes to teaching and enhancing these abilities in children.

To ensure your children benefit fully from such play, as a parent, there are many activities you can do to encourage and provide opportunities for dramatic and social play. For instance, make use of stories and invite your children to recreate a favorite story or take it further to add their own ending or twist to the story. Prompt their ideas by asking questions like, “What do you think happened next?” Also, let your girls and boys play with dolls, puppets, and stuffed animals. Through imaginative play with dolls, children can easily ascribe feelings and ideas to these ‘people’ and ‘animals’ and often use them to express, explore, and work out their own ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Another thing you can do is create what I like to call “prop boxes.” These are bins of costumes and props for themed pretend play scenarios like a flower shop, office, restaurant, post office, or dress shop.

When it comes to pretend play, there is one thing, however, that is more important than any other – time, especially your time. No material, environment, or story can take the play of uninterrupted time to play and explore ideas, and nothing can measure up to special time with you. You may have to forget about work for a while or give up your Facebook or Instagram time, but it will be worth it. What you give your child in time to play will be a gift that lasts a lifetime.

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