Whether you have a little girl, boy or both, playing pretend is something most fathers are familiar with. Stereotypes aside, your daughter probably loves dressing up as a princess and your son is likely fighting beasts with his mighty sword.

What you may not know is that make-believe play is critical in a child’s cognitive development (thinking, knowing, remembering and problem-solving).

Daddy’s Digest has put together a short summary of the ‘need to know’ facts that will help fathers understand the benefits and how they can support this fantasy play.

So, here is what you need to know.

1. Children start to engage in pretend play around the same time their first words emerge, which should be between 12 to 18 months of age.

2. Using and expanding the imagination through creative play in the early years is what allows us to perform daily adult tasks like problem-solving, inventing new things, reading, watching movies etc.

3. Make-believe play positively affects language development as they both use the same underlying ability to represent things symbolically.

4. Pretend play gives children an insight into life as someone else. This ability to take on another person’s perspective helps create a sense of empathy.

5. It is a really fun activity that teaches children to collaborate with others. Letting their imaginations lead playtime allows for endless possibilities and directions that games can take.

6. Make-believe play develops as your child grows older – simple things like pretending to eat themselves or feeding their dolls (age 1-2 years), to more complex pretenses like going shopping (age 3) or role-playing as superheroes (age 4-5).

7. Children need to be encouraged and parents need to actively participate. Avoid sitting on the sidelines, it is more effective to get down to your child’s level and awaken your own inner child.

8. It is important to remember that children up to the age of four can’t always tell what’s real and what is make-believe. However, if your five-year-old is unable to distinguish between the two, then there may be cause of concern that requires the assistance of a qualified medical care professional.

Our guide outlines the facts based on research from several online and offline resources. If you are in doubt or worried about your child’s development for any reason, consult with a qualified and certified mental health professional or medical doctor.


1. Weitzman, E. Greenberg, J. 2002. Learning Language and Loving It: A guide to promoting children's social, language, and literacy development in early childhood settings.

2. American Academy of Pediatrics.

Related articles:

The Principles of Good Parenting

Your Child at 4 Years – Growth, Development and Concerns

Your Child at 5 Years – Growth, Development and Concerns

The Preschool Guide to Age Appropriate Toys

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