Between the ages of 3 and 4, a child’s imagination grows leaps and bounds.
Imaginative play is an important part of how a child practices skills, processes social interactions and roles, and explores new concepts—including math, science, and even literacy!
But sometimes a toddler’s growing imagination can lead to new fears. These fears can range from imagining a polka dotted dinosaur that sleeps under the bed to mundane, daily activities that previously never bothered your child before, such as riding in the car, washing their hands, or a piece of lint floating in the bathtub!
One of the most important things you can do as a parent is treat your child’s fear as real, rather than dismissing it as “silly” or “irrational.” When they act scared, they really are scared. As an adult, you know that the lint in the bathtub won’t hurt them but your child doesn’t understand that yet. Instead, you can use the feelings that accompany these fears as an opportunity to build connections with your child, coach them through their feelings, and problem solve strategies for managing their fears. Your child might surprise you with their creative ideas for remedying the situation, such as a “magic” room spray to keep dinosaurs out of a dark bedroom or “special bubble bath” that neutralizes the power of floating lint.
In Parenting Now’s Thrilling THREEs parenting group, we discuss the concept of using “imagination as a tool.” You want your child to be able to use their imagination, rather than it using them.
One way to support this idea is to incorporate as much silly and fun imaginative play into your child’s day as possible, and limit their access to the scary stuff.
Other ways to support your child’s imagination and manage their fears include:
- Let your child choose what to play but help guide them when needed.
- Fears are sometimes learned from parents, such as shrieking when you see a spider. Take a moment to observe how to manage your own fears so you can best model healthy behavior for your child.
- Offer your child creative outlets for expressing their fears, such as dramatic play or drawing pictures.
- At 3 and 4 years old, children are also establishing their concept of reality, so it can be helpful to clarify with your child what moments in a story, movie, or TV show are real versus what is pretend.
As your child grows, so will their imaginations and ability to process their fears. Be patient with your child during this delicate stage in their development, and nurture them as they try to understand this great big world of ours.
You can learn more about your three-year old’s development by registering for the Thrilling THREEs parenting group starting in january. Visit https://parentingnow.org/thrilling-threes/ or call 541.434-4343 to find out more.
This article appeared in the November 30, 2020 edition of The Register-Guard.