Question: My daughter is 2½ years old and plays “pretend” almost all of her waking hours unless she is at preschool. My husband and I read to her, take her on lots of outings and do arts and craft projects with her, but she loves pretending more than anything.
I’m glad that she has such a great imagination, but she insists that my husband and I participate in her games, singly or together; that we address her with whatever pretend name she has chosen; and that we follow her elaborate scenarios and rigid scripts. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but frankly, we find it tiresome to do these things for hours and hours every day.
Although I used to think that my daughter’s games were quite funny, I now dread staying home with her all day because I can’t persuade her to do anything except play whatever pretend game she wants to play. She even waits patiently for me to finish what I’m doing so we can pretend together. Is it normal for a child to want to pretend so much? And how can I redirect her to other activities without her having a complete meltdown?
How lucky you are to have such an imaginative little girl. And how annoying it must be to have a little girl who tells you what to do all day long.
You don’t have to worry about her love of pretend games. Many bright children pretend quite a lot, especially at 2, 3 and 4, and their parents usually call them by their pretend names because it’s an amusing thing to do, and it pleases their children so much.
These children don’t play pretend games from dawn to dusk, however, and your child shouldn’t do that, either. Nor should she give you so many orders. Although children usually try to run the show — any show — they feel safer and more secure when they know that their parents are in charge. Your daughter won’t believe it, however, unless you calm down, chill out and take your rightful places as the king and the queen of the family. If she thinks that she is more powerful than you are, she might not learn to share well, to be a team player or to have close friends.
It’s time to change your approach. You enveloped your baby with love and good nutrition when she was in the womb, and you swaddled her with love and attention when she was a baby, but now you need to let her go. Because your constant attention has set a pattern, however, you’ll have to make changes bit by bit or she will have more meltdowns than you — or she — can stand.
Although your 2-year-old should be supervised at all times, you don’t have to entertain her, obey her and be her playmate every hour of almost every day. She’ll do just fine if you give her 10 minutes of your time once or twice an hour — before she starts fussing for it — and if you let her spend the rest of the hour amusing herself, dreaming her impossible dreams or hanging out with playmates her own age.
When your daughter wants to play a game of pretend with you, you should say okay but delay it whenever you can by telling her that you can’t play pretend until you fold the laundry and make a batch of cookies. Children obey indirect orders better than direct ones at this age, especially if cookies are involved.
You also need to stash a basket in the corner, filled with scarves and hats, purses, gloves, a briefcase and a cane because props will invite you, her dad and her playmates to add to your daughter’s scripts whether she likes that or not. If she says that everyone must do and say whatever she tells them to, her friends will probably refuse her swiftly and perhaps brusquely. This is how preschoolers police one another. Don’t interfere, as she will hear their corrections better than yours.
Because everything you do — or don’t do — affects the way your child acts, you also should read “Mindful Parenting” by Kristen Race (St. Martin’s Griffin; $16). It probably gives the best description of the brain and how it acts and reacts of any book the Family Almanac has recommended in years.
Send questions about parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also at washingtonpost.com Read a transcript of a recent live Q&A hosted by Kelly at washingtonpost.com/advice , where you can also find past Family Almanac columns. Her next chat is scheduled for Feb. 20.
Read past columns and other parenting content at www.washingtonpost.com/ lifestyle/on-parenting.