How Pretend Play Helps Children Learn Social Skills

“Mommy, you be a cop and we’ll be the robbers! We’re running away and taking your money!”

Lately, my kids have been playing cops and robbers. They’re always looking for new items to “steal”, and then they run to their robber’s fort (aka under our dining room table). My husband and I are the cops. We look for clues to track the robbers, and then we usually have a little exchange ---

We put our hands on our hips and in our best cop voice, we say “Are you those robbers?”

“No, we’re not! They went that way!” The kids can barely get out the words before they start giggling and getting excited about throwing us off the trail.

Take a moment and focus on some of your fun times playing pretend as a child. Close your eyes and think about what you used to do.

Did you pretend to be an Astronaut? a Chef? A Dinosaur?

Pretend play is a healthy part of a child’s development. Pretend play is imaginative, creative and fun!  AND it also builds a child’s social skills.

When children pretend play, they practice several social skills, including:


Pretending is more fun when you can work together. Let’s say a few kids want to pretend play having a store. By cooperating and working together, they can make more of the things they want to be in the store so they can be ready to “open” sooner.

Problem Solving

When they are playing store, who is going to do what? How many kids are playing and how many roles do you need in the store? A cashier, an item maker, a stocker, a bagger? Pretend play allows kids to think through and practice solving problems.

Taking Turns

Maybe a couple of children want to be the cashier at the store. Then they will need to practice patience and take turns so both children can get a few minutes to do what they’d like.


If there is only one apron, but a couple of children want to use it, what do you do? Especially when materials are scarce, you have to share the fun things.


When you play with others, you start to practice taking another person’s perspective and putting yourself in their shoes. What a great way to work on understanding someone else’s feelings and thinking about other people.

So how can you encourage pretend play at home?

Provide the space

Children need an area that they know they’re allowed to play in and set up how they’d like. Right now, my own kids play zone is the dining room. We almost never use it as a dining room plus under the dining room table is a perfect place for a fort hideout.

Provide the time

We make an effort to make sure our children don’t have too many things scheduled, and we have some down time to allow for free play. Life can get busy, and these last few weekends have been filled with birthday parties and other activities. So we made sure they had a couple of hours over this past weekend to just play at home.

Provide the materials

It doesn’t have to be complicated, it could be as simple as setting out a few items for pretending and see what they do. If you're looking for some great pretend play resources, check out My Pretend Place!

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