13 - 15 Months

The benefits of playing pretend with your toddler

Lifting an empty cup to their mouth, tucking their doll under the covers, or petting a stuffed animal are all signs your toddler has started to engage in pretend play. While your toddler may do this on their own, research shows that pretending along with them can encourage and enrich their play. 

3 reasons to play pretend with your toddler

1. It strengthens their understanding of symbols

Encouraging simple symbolic play—like holding a block up to your ear and pretending to call Grandma—strengthens your toddler’s understanding that one thing (a block) can stand in for another (a phone). This basic understanding sets the stage for learning language, math, science, music, and a whole world of symbolic meaning. 

2. It deepens their play

When you play pretend with your toddler, you focus on the same thing at the same time, known as “joint attention.” Research shows that this is an effective way to get your child to go a little deeper in their play and build their attention span. 

3. It improves their language skills

Decades of research has linked symbolic play to language development. A 2021 study found that playing pretend involves more complex language and conversational turn taking than other types of play. 

Tips for playing pretend with your toddler

  • Take your cues from your toddler. If they pretend to sip from a cup, try serving pretend drinks and drinking them together. If they’re really interested in bath time, you can give their baby doll a bath together. 
  • Keep symbolic play scenarios to just two or three steps. For example, you might feed a baby doll, then change its diaper. 
  • Give your toddler some control over how the play unfolds—you could ask, “What comes next? Does the baby need a bottle or a nap?”
  • Move on when they want to. Your toddler may only be interested in pretending for a few minutes at a time.
  • Remember you don’t have to play pretend every day or every time your toddler wants to for them to benefit.

Learn more about the research

Creaghe, N., Quinn, S., & Kidd, E. (2021). Symbolic play provides a fertile context for language development. Infancy, 26(6), 980-1010.

Quinn, S., & Kidd, E. (2019). Symbolic play promotes non-verbal communicative exchange in infant–caregiver dyads. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 37(1), 33-50.


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Posted in: 13 - 15 Months, 16 - 18 Months, Social Emotional, Pretend Play, Cognitive Development, Lovevery App, Parenting, Child Development

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