8 Fun Pretend Games That Build Your Child’s Social Skills


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The best way to learn is by imaging. I’m sure as a parent, you’ve seen your son put on a pirate costume and pretend to sail the seas while slaying the big ocean monster. Or maybe your daughter built a massive fort with LEGO and pretended to go into battle. Perhaps you’ve overheard your child talking to his toys? You’ve probably heard the craziest conversations, right? Well, they are not just being silly; they are learning valuable social skills. Children can learn a lot of great skills when they pretend play.

Pretend play is much more than acting out imaginative stories; it requires advanced thinking strategies, communication, and social skills. When your child takes part in pretend play, he is learning how to experiment and handle common social and emotional roles. When playing pretend, you might see him experience taking turns, sharing responsibility, and problem-solving.

Many kids love to role-play. Whether it is with action figures, or dressing up as their favorite superhero. When your child pretends to take on the personality of different characters, she gains experience learning to “walk in someone else’s shoes.” She is learning how to be empathetic and see the world from another angle. Pretend play can help kids move from an egocentric point of view to a more welcoming and cooperative viewpoint.

With your child home right now, there’s no better time than the present to play some “pretend” games to pass the time.

Here are 8 pretend games that are great fun and can help your child improve their social skills:

1. Storytime: Have your child recreate their favorite storybook. Take it to the next level with a fun and creative twist, which can help with critical thinking skills. Prompt your child with open-ended questions. You can ask things like, “What would have happened if the hamster didn’t find his toy?” Or, “Why did the fairy Godmother save the girl?”

2. Charades. Everyone loves a game of charades. Have your child act out a certain emotion and have other family members guess which emotion is being portrayed. It’s a great way to help your child understand feelings and emotions and learn how to talk about them.

3. Read the Room. Have family members sit around the table while playing a board game and take a time out to read facial expressions. Have your child guess what someone is thinking by the look on his or her face. If your child is good at reading facial expressions, she might be able to be a more supportive friend during a play date.

4. Gardening. Most children love to play in the dirt. Why not grab some gardening tools and a few new plants and build a new flowerbed. This activity can help your child build his social skills by learning how to cooperate to create something new.

5. Simon Says. Traditional games like Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light, can give your child practice with following directions and taking turns. It’s a great way to work on their ability to be more aware of their impulses.

6. Play Devil’s Advocate. Some children can only see one side of the coin, so to speak. Expose your child to different viewpoints and improve their perspective-taking skills. Pick a topic and ask a question that has two sides to the debate. For example, you don’t think city parks should close at 3 p.m. Take turns giving your viewpoint on why the park should close at 3 p.m. or why it should stay open later.

7. Pass the Ball. Take turns passing the ball in a circle. The game begins with the parent starting the conversation and passing it to a family member in the circle. The recipient of the ball has to continue the conversation and stay on topic.

8. Become Statues. Take turns with your child pretending to be a statue. Pick a favorite superhero or create a specific pose and see how long your child can pose. This type of pretend play is also great for improving emotional self-regulation.

With a parent’s support and many opportunities for pretend play, your child can continue to develop the social skills they need. Use these ideas, or come up with some fun ones on your own. As long as your child is pretend playing, he is learning the critical social skills needed to get along with others.

A personal coach, author, teacher, and speaker whose work has inspired conversations about social skills at schools and in homes all across the county, Caroline Maguire believes all children can shine. Her work is critical to parents who support children with executive function challenges struggling to show their best selves.

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