How Pretend Play Can Help Kids Become More Responsible

by Kristina Buskirk

The home is where children learn many of the skills they need to be able to be successful adults. Learning these skills won’t happen overnight, but parents can teach their kids in small and simple ways as they grow and help them prepare to be independent and happy adults.

How can I raise responsible and independent children?

In order to raise responsible and independent kids, parents need to think ahead and analyze the skills their kids will need to know when they are adults and work backward. For example, if we want to raise kids that are able to live in their own space, we need to teach them self-care skills, independent skills (like cooking and cleaning), and problem-solving skills.

Similarly, if we want to raise kids that are able to keep a job, we need to teach them about time management, organization, and perseverance.

In our home, we start working towards these goals in small ways, by giving kids simple responsibilities. We also love to incorporate these future scenarios into pretend play time periods. Kids have the opportunity to cook and work at a restaurant using a play kitchen or they can dress up like a veterinarian or animal caregiver and take care of animals.


How can pretend play help kids become more responsible?

Mr. Rogers said, “Play gives children the chance to practice what they are learning.” Through pretend play, children can explore these roles and work on developing the characteristics needed to fulfill these roles in the future.

There are several skill areas that kids need to develop in order be successful adults. Here are three skill areas that we want to discuss today!

1) Self-care

Self-care is so important for kids and adults! Self-care includes taking care of your mental, physical, and emotional health. Kids can practice learning how to shower, bathe, apply lotion, brush their teeth, cut their nails, etc. while they are exploring pretend play scenarios.

While playing with our pet sets, my kids were able to practice shaving their animal’s hair, cutting their nails, feeding them, filling their water, and helping them feel comfortable. This practice can be a great first step to introducing these simple skills to their own children.


2) Feeding

Having a pet is a one way to introduce kids to the routines and regularity of feedings. Kids need to learn how to feed themselves, prepare their own food, clean up after themselves, and express gratitude. They might also be a parent or caregiver someday, so it is important they learn to help care for others too. They can practice these skills using a real pet or a pretend play animal set, like the Feeding & Grooming Pet Care Play Set.



3) Problem-solving

Being able to successfully interact with people can impact lifelong happiness. During pretend play, kids learn to do things like negotiate, listen to other people’s perspectives, create plans, share and listen to other people’s ideas. Kids can also develop higher order thinking skills as they analyze things and problem solve during pretend play situations.


While playing Animal Hospital, kids get a chance to analyze pretend play scenarios and figure out how to work through these challenging situations, like deciding whether or not a dog needs a shot! Often making decisions can be scary for kids, but the more opportunities they get to explore these skills in a low-stress environment (like play!), the more successful they can be when the pressure is on.

Do you want to teach your kids to be more responsible? Here are a few ideas on how to start teaching responsibility through pretend play.

• Make time for pretend play! Make sure you build time into your day for these simple opportunities for open-ended playtime.

• Stock and organize your materials! Make sure you have a supply of things like play food and plates and silverware for your play kitchen or stethoscopes and band-aids for your animal hospital. Organizing them in easy to access ways, based on the play theme, can really help. For example, keep all of your doctor’s office materials in one box and your kitchen cooking materials in another.

• Encourage kids to role-play scenarios where they are caregivers, doctors, workers, etc. and feel free to join in! As you play alongside and work as a schoolteacher, veterinarian, or salesperson, you can model some of the characteristics of responsible and independent adults that you want to teach your kids. Kids often copy what they experience in play and can learn from examples that they see!

Raising responsible and hard-working kids is so important! Do you have any other simple ways that you teach your kids to be responsible through play?

Kristina Buskirk

Kristina is the founder of Toddler Approved. She is a mom of four (ages 8, 5, 3, and 5 months), as well as a National Board certified teacher. Kristina taught elementary school for several years before she retired to be a full-time mom. She loves chocolate, running, traveling, and party planning. You can follow the Toddler Approved Facebook Page for more fun activities.

Nest is a stockist of Melissa & Doug toys. With everything that Melissa & Doug create, they hope to encourage:

  • Free Play
  • Creativity
  • Imagination
  • Learning
  • Discovery

Click here to purchase the Feeding & Grooming Pet Care Set that is featured in this post.