Encouraging empathy through imaginative play

Child feeding toy dog

The home corner hums with family life. Katy is busily feeding Blue Doggie some milk when Daddy trips on his shoelace. In response to his howls, Katy jumps up, hugs him and sits her dog in his lap. "Don't cry Daddy, Mummy will make you a cup of tea."

Most practitioners would agree that imaginative play strengthens communication, problem solving and creativity. But do we realise its importance in encouraging empathy? As children play act different roles, they have to put themselves in someone else's shoes and imagine what they might be feeling.

Children who frequently immerse themselves in imaginative play are often especially sensitive to their playmates' feelings. When children understand the feelings of others, it reduces bullying and aggression and helps them build positive relationships. So an environment that inspires imaginative play can also foster empathy.

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