Page 2 | How on earth to handle imaginary play?

(57 Posts)
Pl242 Sat 19-Dec-20 13:43:49

My DD has always been into imaginary play. She’s now 4 and started reception this year and I (perhaps naively) thought she’d have grown out of a bit. But it’s her entirely favourite thing to do and it’s my absolute least favourite thing to do with her.

How do people cope with it? I honestly loathe it. I know it’s my job to get past it and suck it up, but how, exactly?

I find myself getting unfairly annoyed with her as we’ll play that for a while and then I’ll try and move her onto something else like puzzles, books, games, books, colouring etc. But she quickly tires of these things and just wants to go back to playing families. Aaaah.

It’s definitely obviously harder at the moment. We were supposed to be at the theatre today which was cancelled as it’s tier 3 and just facing lots of days inside in the rain (as she’s also very reluctant to go out in poor weather).

Any tips? Also have DS who’s about to turn 2 so have the usual challenges of trying to entertain them both simultaneously etc.

OP’s posts: |
BiscuitDrama Sat 19-Dec-20 14:33:46


It's funny because I would love this so much. Dressing up and pretending to be actors or animals, creating Stories and songs. This is my dream play. My son has autism and the only thing he does is move items from room to room and stack them. We read the same book 20x a day

It's lovely to be creative and imaginative. Could you not ask her to come up with a story and you be the narrator or something?

In reality it just ends up with me being screeched at because I’m “doing it wrong”.

OnNaturesCourse Sat 19-Dec-20 14:33:47

Our house is basically an imagination land according to DC age 3.

I quite like it as it doesn't involve much, just let her run with it and go along for the ride. We can be eating marshmallows in a cafe one minute and off on an adventure with Paw Patrol the next. I adore the stories she can come up with at the drop of a hat and do find the less I think about it the more I can get involved...its like my brain needs to be switched off to a certain extent.

I do put limits on the time sometimes though as it's good for kids to entertain themselves plus we all have things to get on with! I tend to find after half an hour of it DC it quite happy to continue herself, or come and help me with whatever I am doing.

bestbefore Sat 19-Dec-20 14:36:04

Oh goodness, play with her; before you know it she will be a teenager up in her room on her phone...

StormyInTheNorth Sat 19-Dec-20 14:36:36

Oooh, yes. I am not so keen on playing school or shop or sports day but I try to suck it up as much as I can because DM never played with me and I always had no one. It helps to have something cooking that you need to check every 10 minutes or laundry that needs moving.

Pl242 Sat 19-Dec-20 14:36:55

Thank you for all the suggestions and solidarity. I don’t want to ban it (fair enough if that’s what you do). And I actually think it’s great that she wants to and I love the scale of her imagination.

I think limits with choices of other activities is probably the way to go. I predict tantrums but I also think she is old enough to understand that it can’t always just all be about her and what she wants. She does enjoy other things but resists them ahead of things that she’s decided are her favourites.

Alas I can’t easily get away with a passive role. She’s incredibly clear in her vision and wants full participation from others to execute this. Maybe a future in film direction lies ahead 😂. I actually do find it easier if I throw myself fully into it but I have limited stamina. I’ll think we must have been doing it for hours and I’ll look at my watch and 5 minutes have transpired.

I’m hoping in a few months my youngest will make a better playing companion. He’s at that tricky age where he’s old enough to want to get involved but not old enough to play. Old enough to want my attention but not old to effectively communicate. Trying to do craft things with both of them is a nightmare as he just wrecks everything or I can’t give her much attention or help. But I’m also pretty useless at crafts as well tbh.

I think my mind is just concentrated on this as we’re back into heavy restrictions (like I realise most places) with what looks like a really tough few months ahead.

My MiL is amazing at imaginary play and super patient but who knows when we can next have them at our house or vice versa.

Thanks again.

OP’s posts: |
longhaulstress Sat 19-Dec-20 14:40:32

I hate it too and hardly ever do it.
Sometimes I'll set stuff up but yes I hate the improv side of it, getting told off because I'm doing/saying the wrong thing.
Luckily my dd is mainly happy to do it on her own probably because I never join in so the blue moon she does ask me I don't mind.
I always just think my mum never joined in with imaginary play with me when I was young and I still had a lovely childhood.


Pl242 Sat 19-Dec-20 14:41:48

I’m willing to do all sorts of play with her - games, puzzles, crafts, outdoor play, reading. I just don’t want hours and hours or just imaginary play.

OP’s posts: |
Pl242 Sat 19-Dec-20 14:46:12

My DM didn’t do much imaginary play with me and won’t as a GM either really. I wouldn’t say I’m scarred for life but I want to be more engaged with my DD than my mother was in my childhood with this type of playing. I just find it really hard sometimes and don’t want to do it to the exclusion of all other activities. So think it’s about balance really and managing it in practice. Some good suggestions here. Thank you.

OP’s posts: |
purplemunkey Sat 19-Dec-20 14:47:04

I’m the same, I never liked it either. Once she got a bit older, maybe your DDs age in fact, I just told her I didn’t really like playing those games.

By that age she’d been at nursery for a while and had her own preferences out what she did and didn’t like doing or playing. It was easy enough to explain nicely that that’s not something I enjoy and she can either play that game on her own or we can do something we both enjoy.

She know the only role play I’m happy to play nowadays is hairdressers smile

She just got used to doing all the other stuff - playing families/camping/school/going on holiday - with her toys instead.

AccidentallyOnPurpose Sat 19-Dec-20 14:55:52


I think it would be really horrible to say no. Imaginary play is really important. I think the mistake people make is thinking they somehow need to be an active participant like it’s an improv group or something. Just go with the flow and let yourself be directed by the child. I quite like it, I just zone out and daydream.

Have you ever been told off by a 3 yo (followed by a massive tantrum) because you gave her the wrong IMAGINARY fork 3 times?

First it was a spoon.
Then it was metal not plastic.
Then it was red not blue!!!

It's thin air kiddow just blooming take it!!

grey12 Sat 19-Dec-20 14:57:40

I try to give them ideas and encourage them to do things like can you cook some pasta with vegetables for us? Or find all the things that fly/live in water..... That way they're busy doing something while I watch grin or I do something that is fun for me and them like gobbling all the fake cake down (and hiding it behind my back)

I do prefer reading them books wink people who don't read to their kids are missing a trick. It's a breeze to do and they love sitting snuggling next to you.

Pipandmum Sat 19-Dec-20 15:03:57

Goodness imaginary play lasts way longer than age 4! But put a time on it as suggested. Hopefully she can soon start playing with her sibling instead of you.

Lazypuppy Sat 19-Dec-20 19:08:14

My daughter does imaginary play, but on her own with her toys etc. I hate it sonever do it.

I dont play with her all day, never have. If she wants me to play with her then we'll do puzzles or other toys, if she wanta to play pretend she has to do that on her own

Miriam101 Sat 19-Dec-20 19:40:07

Oh god no advice but solidarity - I am having the same thing. Constant! And as you say the Covid situation just makes it worse as when she’s at home, unless she’s actively engaged in say baking or crafts, it’s all imaginary. Friends/family/doctors/ arghhdhhdhshshhsh I hate it. I wouldn’t if it was just half an hour a day but when it’s almost like the default setting it’s so annoying. And then as you say I feel guilty and mean for saying no. So I just go with it as much as poss and hope this particular phase ends quickly...
Also we’ve done a LoT of baking as I find she gets totally absorbed in it

Miriam101 Sat 19-Dec-20 19:41:57

Also I should say for pure shoot my self in the head terrain: her current favourite is to pretend she’s a baby and I have to change her nappy. Which is pooey. Every time. Of course.

TalkToTheHand123 Sat 19-Dec-20 20:19:44

My 4 year old stops when I join in. She thinks I'm being sarcastic.

Bourbonbiccy Sat 19-Dec-20 20:21:42

Oohh I am absolutely here in solidarity. I feel mean saying No as he has no one else to play with and i thin it's good for their imagination and learning ..........however today my 3 year old son has decided today we are playing dogs, he is a dog trainer and I am obviously the dog as he throws a sock around the lounge, whilst he trains me to sit, fetch and leave the sock etc etc........

Then on to Vets that just goes on forever but it does crack me up laughing as he is funny, but it can be tough

Pl242 Sat 19-Dec-20 20:28:45

@Miriam101 yes. The default setting. That is exactly what it’s like!

OP’s posts: |
Pl242 Sat 19-Dec-20 20:30:24

We also had babies today. She also re-enacts our daily lives, such as “baby’s refusing to eat her lunch and you need to persuade her mummy”. We just did that IRL 20 minutes ago shock

OP’s posts: |
woodhill Sat 19-Dec-20 20:31:33

No, never did it, it's so boring and I had too much to do, had 3 close in age.

Agree with Moon

igotosleep Sat 19-Dec-20 20:38:00

I do it but my husband doesn’t, so it annoys me because my kids always ask me. They are 3&5 though so play together most of the time & I need limited input (living the dream!)

Ohalrightthen Sat 19-Dec-20 22:14:55

No one ever did any imaginary at with me - i did it with my toys. My parents played with me lots, but no imaginary play - it hasn't harmed me at all, I'm a novelist now - if you don't like it, don't do it!

The real issue is that you've already been doing it for years, so she's used to it, and she's 4 now, so stopping would be a battle.

Reallynotavailable Sat 19-Dec-20 23:38:52

"It's funny because I would love this so much. Dressing up and pretending to be actors or animals, creating Stories and songs. This is my dream play. My son has autism and the only thing he does is move items from room to room and stack them. We read the same book 20x a day"

@doadeer That is a helpful perspective. If your child can't or won't play like that, I can see it would be something you wish they were interested in.

Has anyone watched the amazing Australian cartoon Bluey? It's all about parents playing pretend play with their children. It's so good.

Aria999 Sun 20-Dec-20 12:35:43

OP we have similar except it always has to involve an imaginary battle of some kind. Even if it starts out as something totally different like being explorers.

One thing I will say is that DS has slightly dialled down his requirements for my level of active participation over the last couple of months. So I'm more able to nod, smile and zone out.

prettygirlincrimsonrose Mon 21-Dec-20 10:58:04

This is interesting because I sometimes worry that DS (3) doesn't play like this, but it's something I remember a lot from being a child.

Practically (and obviously based on no experience) is there any scope for doing something else (whether useful or a bit more interesting for you) with some imaginary play thrown in? For example, say with drawing/colouring, you have to draw pictures of the queen because she's ordered everyone in the land to draw a picture and it has to make her look really beautiful or else, but you're going to hide a secret message in your picture for someone working in the castle etc etc, so she still gets to chat about some imaginary scenario. As I said, no 4 year old and no child who plays like this, but I seem to remember being willing to do other things while pretending I was in a different situation (although I was probably a bit older).

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