Pretend play, or make-believe, takes a big leap this year as Baby’s imagination grows. This type of play shows how creative he is growing. He will be dreaming up all sorts of new scenes and schemes as the year goes on. Imaginative play is lots of fun, but it also helps Baby problem-solve, and to work through complex feelings by letting his toys work through problems for him.
How pretend play changes in the third year
Baby has probably been acting out familiar scenes for a while, like feeding a doll a bottle, then setting it into its crib for some sleep. This year, he may learn to improvise – maybe using a shoebox instead of actual doll furniture in a pinch. He may also demonstrate an interest in having the doll express its feelings, and will respond to those feelings. This shows that Baby is beginning to understand social cues and the needs of others.
Many toddlers conjure up an imaginary friend to spend some of the day with. Some imaginary friends are around a lot of the time, while others may pop up only when it’s convenient, like when Baby needs someone to blame for spilling his juice. While some parents are concerned about imaginary friends, this phase is a normal part of childhood and should be encouraged. Having an imaginary friend shows Baby is being creative and is practicing social skills, and there’s no harm in setting a place for your new houseguest at the dinner table if it makes him happy.
Imagination is a wonderful thing and is an indicator that Baby’s development is on track. It can also pose challenges, though, and it’s important to have rules about when it’s time to get back to reality. Dressing up in costume at home is a great way to exercise a young imagination, but it’s fine to insist that he changes into regular clothes before running errands, if that’s important to you, or if the climate really isn’t right for wearing Baby’s favorite costume outside.
Baby’s imagination will open a lot of doors for him in the next year, both in play and in terms of more complex critical thinking.