Reality versus Make Believe

Young children have a strong ability to be in the moment and to become the persons or things they imagine or  pretend to be. Good and bad.

Good because pretending is a pathway to becoming. Bad because pretending can become a way of life and the self gets lost. How can a parent help a child find the balance?


Mental health aka Emotional Fitness demands the ability to code reality and to find comfort when reality is not to our liking.  Doing so is a growth process.

The ability to pretend and be one with pretending protects a young child from pain and fears that might overwhelm.  This is often why when a child seems to be playing during times of trauma, parents think the child  is not suffering.

What to do? Stay aware of age and stage and be with the child’s ability to deal with reality. For example:

  • The younger the child, the more the child’s feelings of the moment are in control.
  • Help begin coding by pointing out make believe stuff versus real life stuff while accepting the child’s point of view. Label play and make believe as pretending or imaging. Do so matter of factly.
  • The appearance of night terrors marks the brain’s growing awareness that life brings bad times. Don’t wake the child, let the brain do its work.
  • The terrible twos or “Me do” stage marks the child’s awareness of personal weakness and a simultaneous need for self empowerment. Allow as much choice as possible, but also enforce rules dealing with  safety and respect for self and others.
  • Somewhere around the age of six of seven the child’s ability to think shifts from feelings of the moment determining reality to a greater ability to step out of the box of feeling and better code reality. This is why cultures either send children to school or to tend flocks or care for younger siblings.  Reality coding at this point depends on what is seen, touched, tasted, and capable of hands on manipulation.    Surrounding voices add to the thoughts about reality, but the child’s personal experience trumps all. Thought is also limited to one or two ideas at a time.
  • Adolescence brings another major shift; instead of being bound by personal experience or only one or two ideas, thinking explodes and a hundred things become possible.  This is why many adolescence’s become interested in the occult or seem determined to challenge the thinking of adults.  Best advice for dealing with this age: don’t take the challenges personally encourage exploration of ideas; hold to important rules but otherwise let go and let life take over teaching what matters.

Stay strong

This blog post was inspired by this Word Press Daily Prompt: The Great Pretender Are you full of confidence or have you ever suffered from Imposter Syndrome? Tell us all about it.

In terms of pretending to be who you are not, it is a skill that serves well, as long as the pretend self does not submerge the real self.  An ability that increases with development.

Parents can aid that development by teaching respect for others aka teaching manners.

If you are new to the idea of emotional fitness exercises visit this blog page: Easy Emotional Fitness Exercises to get started  improving your emotional intelligence.

Thank you all for all you do to care and share with others. Doing a little matters a lot.


Links of Importance



2 responses to “Reality versus Make Believe

  1. There has been so much put out there on how TV and Digital games lead kids to violence esp in courtroom defense of a crazy kids that commits violent crimes. But for the most part I have found most kids have a clear sense of reality and imagination and can compartmentalize things as play although I am sure some kids negatively affected. Naturally, as always, your post has important presentations.

    Decades ago we kids played war all the time and used the fruit of Miami’s prolific citrus trees as ammunition. None of us became crazy psychos. Besides there is no greater satisfaction then driving a kid running home crying and screaming to his mother after smashing a rotten mango into his face at point blank range ! Ooops. I am sorry. Maybe we did get a little crazy.

    • I so agree, Carl. Even though at one times I banned war toys at my house, my sons made their own guns. Most want peace, which the bullies take advantage of. Thank you for commented.

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