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Dev Sci. 2018 Jul;21(4):e12603. doi: 10.1111/desc.12603. Epub 2017 Sep 15.

Dramatic pretend play games uniquely improve emotional control in young children.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA.
2
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, USA.

Abstract

Pretense is a naturally occurring, apparently universal activity for typically developing children. Yet its function and effects remain unclear. One theorized possibility is that pretense activities, such as dramatic pretend play games, are a possible causal path to improve children's emotional development. Social and emotional skills, particularly emotional control, are critically important for social development, as well as academic performance and later life success. However, the study of such approaches has been criticized for potential bias and lack of rigor, precluding the ability to make strong causal claims. We conducted a randomized, component control (dismantling) trial of dramatic pretend play games with a low-SES group of 4-year-old children (N = 97) to test whether such practice yields generalized improvements in multiple social and emotional outcomes. We found specific effects of dramatic play games only on emotional self-control. Results suggest that dramatic pretend play games involving physicalizing emotional states and traits, pretending to be animals and human characters, and engaging in pretend scenarios in a small group may improve children's emotional control. These findings have implications for the function of pretense and design of interventions to improve emotional control in typical and atypical populations. Further, they provide support for the unique role of dramatic pretend play games for young children, particularly those from low-income backgrounds. A video abstract of this article can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/2GVNcWKRHPk.

PMID:
28913920
DOI:
10.1111/desc.12603

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