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Playtime & Toys

How to Make Pretend Play More Fun (for Both of You!)

Take your pretend play game up a notch with these expert tips for rocking your kid's make-believe world.

Playtime is one of the great joys of having kids, but when it comes to pretend play, sometimes it's hard to keep 19 rounds of having your hair brushed and styled for 'Pretty, Pretty Princess' going. To the rescue, seven tips from experts and moms that will help you up your make-believe game.

Let her lead A game of 'Teacher/Student' is perfect at this age because kids adore being in charge, says Deborah Gilboa, MD, a family physician, mom of 4, and author of Get the Behavior You Want...Without Being the Parent You Hate. "You can take on the role of your kid while she plays a friend or the teacher and directs the scene."

Use it to relax Want to recline on the couch for half an hour? Margaret Hargrove, mom to Willow, 3, from Orange, NJ, takes advantage when it comes to endless rounds of 'Nurse.' "I'll tell my daughter that I have a broken leg or sore back and need to lie down and then she'll pretend to bandage me," she says. Gilboa uses this insider trick, too: "Play 'Animals' and you be the sleepy dog," she adds.

Try 'what if' Not every tea party or dress up session needs to be the same. As you begin the game, pose a 'What if…' scenario to see how your kid reacts and whether she can come up with a quick-thinking solution. What if an elephant sat down for tea? What if it started raining inside?

Use a book as a guide Having a tough time keeping the pretend-play banter going? Riff off one of your kid's favorite books. Setting up train tracks? Act out the storyline of a Thomas and Friends book. Robyn Blain, the mom of two, ages 5 and 7, in Belchertown, MA, uses the book We're Going on a Bear Hunt as a guide: "When we're shopping at the mall, we'll pretend we're wading across water or pushing through tall grass to find the bear."

Make it silly Remember that it's okay to go off script. Talk with an accent, walk with a goofy gait, start rhyming, or pretend to be scared and then have your child rescue you, says Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, a child psychologist and author of the video series "Raising Emotionally and Socially Healthy Kids." Do or say something unexpected or unrelated to the game-anything to change it up and make it more fun.

Explore more What's really under the couch or between those big cushions? Amy Johnston of Hartford, CT pretends she and her four-year-old son Ben are on a discovery mission called 'Lost World'. "We take a bag and a flashlight and along the way we might end up finding that all-important tiny construction guy with the helmet hat," she reports.

Cook up some fun You don't need a play kitchen or plastic food to request meals of any scope or size. Ask your kiddo what he'd like to eat (taking mental notes for when you're stumped for dinner ideas), order up what you wish you could be eating, and-bonus-pretend that you have a personal chef at your service to whip up your every culinary desire.

Bring work home Even if you don't work in an office, designate two workstations on the floor or dining room table and put out pencils, highlighters, and paper supplies. Let your child scribble and then place her work in a folder or envelope to drop off in your 'inbox'. Never gets old.