“I’m the mum, you’re the dad and you’re the baby!” There will most likely come a time when your child will say these exact words to you, their friends, or their siblings. Because children love to playfully slip into other roles. They imitate their parents and chauffeur their favourite toy around in a pram or doll carrier. Just like their grown-ups do. This is a good and important developmental step. Role play supports your child’s personality development on various levels, reveals our midwife and babywearing expert Katrin Ritter. But why?
The importance of role play games for children – Freud’s Theory
A child usually starts role-playing at around the age of three. According to Sigmund Freud’s “Theory of Psychoanalysis”, this is also the time when a toddler enters the so-called phallic phase. According to the Austrian psychologist and doctor, children go through five phases in their psychosexual development:
- Oral phase – in the first year of life: focus on the mouth region and skin
- Anal phase – second to third year of life: sensation during the excretion of faeces
- Oedipal or phallic phase – fourth and fifth year of life: focus on own genitals
- Latency period – sixth year of life to puberty: sexuality comes to a standstill & adapts to the demands of the environment
- Genital phase – from puberty: awakening of sexual & physical development, search for identity
To understand the importance of role play games, the third phase, the phallic phase, is crucial. In this phase, which in most cases coincides with the preschool years, children realise that they have a certain gender. As a result, they increasingly court the opposite-sex parent and idealise the same-sex parent present. Role-playing games help young children in this phase to understand the different roles, assign themselves to them (find their place in the family) and identify with their own gender. For children, this sometimes includes things that make up the respective role for them. For example, a baby and a doll carrier for mum or dad.
Eight reasons for role play in infancy
Building on this, children imagine themselves in the adult world through role play. They act out everyday situations as well as scenes from books, films or series and thus acquire skills that are important for later life as an adult. But what are they?
- Improved communication: Through role play, children learn new words and improve their ability to express themselves in conversation with others.
- Problem-orientated thinking: By immersing themselves in a fictitious world (e.g. in the role of a firefighter or a salesperson), children experience everyday conflict situations and learn to solve them. They practice different strategies and find solutions to complex problems.
- Social-emotional perception: Children learn to understand and express their own feelings and wishes through role-playing with others. But also those of others. By changing their perspective, they see the world through different eyes and learn to empathise with others.
- Social behaviour: In joint role play, children have to coordinate with each other, distribute roles fairly and fit into a group. Here they can practise resolving conflicts fairly among themselves.
- Dealing with rules: Children learn through play what rules are for and why they should follow them. This makes it easier for them to comply with rules that they would otherwise find difficult, but which are now part of their role.
- Process everyday events: A child experiences so many new things during the day that they must process. Role play makes this possible in a playful way. The child can re-enact the experience and process it in a meaningful way. In this way, they can also reduce anxiety by acting out certain situations repeatedly to understand them better.
- Self-confidence: Role play gives the child the opportunity to try out and express themselves and their own ideas in a safe environment. This results in a self-created sense of achievement. These also help the child to deal better with defeats and setbacks later in life. This strengthens self-esteem and creates self-confidence.
- Fostering creativity: Putting themselves in the shoes of another character, thinking up a storyline and expanding and making it more complex as they get older stimulates children’s imagination and fosters their creativity.
Why is a doll carrier a great gift for children? Because role play makes children happy
So there are plenty of reasons to encourage children to slip into different roles. But the most important one is probably because it’s fun! If your child slips into the role of a toy’s parent, for example, they take on responsibility for the little creature. And that brings them so much joy. They are proud that they can be like the grown-ups and look after “their baby”. Small accessories such as an Ergobaby doll carrier, help your child to slip into the respective role even better.
A doll carrier is also an ideal gift for children who will soon be taking on the role of older sibling. This way, they can practise what it’s like when a new baby suddenly joins the family. Your child will get to know their new role in a playful way and can even take their toys on adventures with their babywearing parent once baby arrives.