Dramatic pretend play games uniquely improve Emotional Control in young children

Thumyat Noe ’23

Figure 1: Social-emotional development is important in the early years of life as proper development of social-emotional skills can instill self-confidence and help form stable relationships in the future.

Social-emotional development is important in preschool children as these skills can predict children’s school readiness, school adjustment, and social functioning in the future. Furthermore, lack of social-emotional skills is often associated with aggression, low achievement, bullying, and substance abuse during adolescence. In an effort to prevent such associations, many schools have created programs that focus on fostering positive social-emotional development in children. These programs have been largely successful, especially for children who have lower levels of social-emotional skills to begin with. Although the designs of these programs vary, most of them utilize dramatic pretend play games in which children embody characters, emotions, or behavior in conditions similar to real life situations. In this study, psychologists from George Mason University and Stony Brook University focus on the effects on dramatic pretend play games on children’s social-emotional skills. The current study differs from previous studies in that it has incorporated experimental design improvements. For instance, unlike previous studies, group leaders facilitating these dramatic play pretend games and experimenters are blind to the study’s goal. 

A total of 97 children from a federally funded Head Start pre-kindergarten program participated in this study. Parental consent and Institutional Review Board approval from Pace University were also obtained. Children were randomly assigned to the experimental group or one of two control groups. There were 24 intervention sessions over the span of eight weeks. During each session, children in the experimental group participated in short and easy dramatic pretend play games, followed by two longer and more complex dynamic pretend play games. These sessions were recorded and reviewed by the experimenters, who made note of any positive behavior among the participants. After the session, experimenters assessed the children’s empathy and willingness to help. The results showed that children who participated in dramatic play pretend games had lower levels of personal distress and neutral social behavior. By examining correspondence in change across domain, researchers found an association between lower neutral levels and higher levels of positive social behavior. This suggests that participation in dramatic play pretend games may be effective in helping children develop critical social-emotional skills because through play pretend games, children can learn how to control their own emotions and emphasize with others. Future studies should focus on determining the optimal intensity and duration of dramatic pretend play games for best results. 

Works Cited:

[1] T.R. Goldstein, et al., Dramatic pretend play games uniquely improve emotional control in young children. Developmental Science 21, 1-13 (2018) doi: 10.1111/desc.12603

[2] Image retrieved from: https://unsplash.com/photos/tvc5imO5pXk


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