Children playing at being animals: bad?

My daughter is nearly five and likes to play at being a cat, or a dog. She wants to be Baby Cat/Dog, with me being The Owner, or Daddy Cat/Dog. She tends to want to repeat the same two “plots” over and over, usually ending up in Daddy/Owner saving her from an imaginary bad guy.

She only plays these games with me, because Mom doesn’t like it. At all. Today my wife told her, and me, that she should only play these games at home because if she plays Let’s Be Cats in her nursery she will be considered weird.

Now, I think there’s nothing wrong in games of pretending, I used to play them when I was little and I certainly don’t think that my daughter should be told not to play them with other children.

But sometimes she needed to be told not to do things that other children didn’t get; for example last year she found the Dramatic Chipmunk hilarious and she was always aping it with the other children, and they absolutely didn’t get it. I think my wife is overreacting to this second issue (don’t do things that other children don’t get) and went overboard.

I’d like opinions from other people, not necessarily parents. Is playing at being an animal such a weird thing?

when did it become “bad” for children to use their imaginations?

Your wife is over reacting and stifling your daughter’s creativity. Yes, pretending you’re an animal in need of rescuing is weird. But all make-believe is weird. If my mother had been privy to the make-believe games I played with I was five, she probably would have locked me up in an insane aslyum.

But she didn’t know because I didn’t play make-believe with either of my parents. I had siblings to play with. Playing with parents was not even in the equation.

If she’s an only child, I’d try to find her more friends to play with who are her age. I’m not saying it’s wrong for you to be playing make-believe with her, but I don’t think your wife would be butting in if ya’ll didn’t know so much about her play habits.

  1. It’ s not weird. It would be kind odd if a child that age didn’t pretend.

  2. with an n of 3 to go by, kids that age can get a little stuck and want to do the same thing again and again and again. One of my daughters wanted to wear the exact same dress for around a year at that time.

  3. It’s more likely your daughter will get every other kid in her class to be kittens, too, than that they will consider her weird.

Geez, she’s not even five yet. Let her be a kid for God’s sake.

My niece (5 years old) does a lot of play-acting, usually with my dad, and it involves doing the same scenes over and over and over ad-nauseum. Usually it’s “family,” sometimes “school” and sometimes “restaurant.”

Before this, she would want to just re-live scenarios she witnessed or heard about in real life, over and over and over. Like the time my dog stole a bag of marshmallows from me when we were all enjoying a camp fire in my yard. She wanted me to tell the story (even though she saw it) all the time. She wanted to tell other people. She was a broken record about it.

Even just yesterday her sister did something funny and I laughed, and my niece had me repeat what happened. Then use my hands to go in to more detail (it involved petting my dog). Then tell her again.

Anyway I think what your daughter is doing is just a normal childhood quirk. Unfortunately she’s hyper-focused on the plots/scenarios/videos that other kids aren’t. But I bet those kids are hyper-focused on their own things.

They’re coming from a world where for their entire lives they’ve been thinking and learning inward and everything revolves around them and their brains. Now in school all these little inward-thinking brains are having to switch to being social, connected brains.

Surely we all go through it and surely the transition is awkward for everyone. Trying to stifle the awkwardness seems futile and detrimental.

Let her play, let her share her weird plots and visions with other kids. Let them share theirs. Maybe she will find a new plot to play out with other kids or maybe she will decide that her plots are dead. Or maybe she’ll forget them all and become really interested in something else.

I think your wife needs to not worry. It’s very normal. And I feel like it won’t last much longer.

Yeah, I promise that other kids at preschool aren’t going to think she’s weird because she’s pretending to be an animal. I had a few third graders last year who ran around playing at puppy and kitten, and the other kids were fine with it.

At the same time, it’s perfectly fine to tell your kid that you’re not enjoying the game. Creativity is a vital part of being a kid; so is learning that you don’t always get to dictate the terms of social involvement. There are some games my daughter likes to play that I find too boring to play, and I tell her that in nice terms and suggest we do something else.

My kids play at being animals all the time. Seems normal enough to me. I’d much rather they played pretend than played in ways that make them follow someone else’s script. My gut says your wife is wrong to suppress this.

Yup, it happened. A few months ago, when I went to pick her from the nursery the lady in charge told me that she had been playing at being cats with other children most of the day. She also made a funny face, though, as if playing pretend was anything odd.

She’s a single child, yes, and getting her to spend more time with other children is not really working very well. Parents in the nursery are mostly just not interested, even when the teachers herself was trying to encourage it. Friends of ours that are close don’t have children, and those that do already have their cliques and make a lot of fuss to meet. “Next weekend we already have engagements, the following one a play date, the following one we’ll go out… Contact me in a month” and then they restart the charade again.

Maybe we’re not good at making good friends. And that’s another problem, because I’m concerned sometimes that we’re not going to be good at guiding her about this “making friends” stuff :frowning:

I’d instantly choose a different preschool. I mean, WTF? :confused::mad:

The only thing that strikes me as being in the slightest odd is that she chose such a common animal to mimic. I’d have expected zoo animals instead.

But that’s only the slightest bit odd.

Related story:

I overheard my little boy and some neighborhood girls, slightly older, playing family or house or whatever. Everyone was shouting out what they wanted to be. My son excitedly announced, “I want to be the dog!”

One of the girls (often nasty btw) said, “We already have a dog. [our real dog] But *you *can be the *tree *the dog *pees *on!”

Later on, my son told me, “You wouldn’t think it was funny, mama, if she said it to you.”
In my general experience with kids, pretending they’re animals is as common as building forts.

Pretty common. For about two weeks this winter we didn’t have a three-year-old girl, we had a second housecat. One who ate goldfish crackers and wore tutus.

Totally normal. Kids do weird stuff all the time. Last week my daughter pretended to be a bird, a fairy, a fireman, and a mommy. Totally normal.

I kind of get where your wife is coming from though. My daughter has a new thing where she tells you that she has a baby in her belly. Apparently the baby is a girl and she is going to name her Rocco. I’m not surprised by this (well, except maybe the name) because the moms of all the other kids in her preschool and even one of her teachers are pregnant right now, so of course she sees a ton of women with “babies in their bellies” and she is mirroring that. It does make me just a wee bit uncomfortable to hear my three year old talk about being pregnant though. I just keep my discomfort in my head and remind myself that she isn’t doing anything wrong.

Seems normal to me, too. My sister pretended to be a dog a lot when she was that age.

Not only is it normal for a kid, it used to be/maybe still is common for daddies to entertain their children with animal impressions.

The only thing that sets of a vague alarm bell is the scenario she keeps setting up wherein you have to rescue her. Does she have any issues with your wife or with the teacher? Maybe another kid giving her a rough time? These things are usually harmless, but sometimes when kids pretend, there is an element of real life fears or anxieties involved. Perhaps the next time you play that game with her, you can ask if there is anything she’s afraid of or worried about.

This isn’t even the tiniest bit weird. Like, on a weird scale of 1 to 100, this doesn’t even rate a 1.

Kids are SUPPOSED to play pretend games. It’s a crucial part of their development. One of the questions they ask you at the health check-up for three-year-olds is ‘Does she play pretend games?’ If the answer’s no, they worry.

My five-year-old and her classmates spend almost every second of their break-times playing pretend games. Then she has playdates, which are spent playing pretend games. Mostly they’re not animals any more, but there are definitely times when they’re cats or dogs or bunnies.

Playing the same game over and over is totally normal, too.

And the thing where one game she liked didn’t work for the other kids? This is normal. At that age, kids are learning to swap games and imaginary worlds. My kid and her friends do it all the time. Sometimes it doesn’t work (‘No one wanted to play X!’) and then they adapt around that - explain the game better, or find another one to offer, or join in someone else’s instead. Again, this is a crucial step in learning social skills. You really don’t want to squash that process.

And the rescue thing doesn’t strike me as weird at all, either. At that age kids are starting to work with the basic narrative arc of fairy tales and other stories: there’s a main character, something puts the main character in jeopardy, the main character is saved. It makes them feel more in control of a world which they’re starting to realise does contain dangers. It doesn’t have to be about any specific anxiety or fear - just trying to come to terms with an expanding world. I would probably try to move slightly towards a story arc in which Baby Cat/Dog plays some role in rescuing itself, rather than simply being rescued, but no big deal if that didn’t take.

Seriously. Everything she’s doing is standard-issue four-year-old. Just be Daddy Cat/Dog for as long as you can handle it, and then do something else.

Thanks for this. Kinda confirms my gut feeling. I don’t think my wife is bothered by the pretending, but by the possibility that other kinds might find the endless repetitions weird, and you know how it is when kids decide you’re weird. But that’s less of a problem than she thinks, I have proven proof the other kids spend the whole day playing Being Cats with her - at least the group that attended some months ago.

I don’t find it weird at all. When I was a kid I loved pretending I was a dog or horse…especially a horse. My grandma gave me an old white towel, and I would tuck it in the waistband of my pants so it was my tail.