Imagination-driven play is one way children learn, and role playing is a fun part of how children explore their environment. When your child engages in in pretend or dramatic play, he/she is experimenting with emotional as well as social roles of real life.
Although parents may not realize it, kids who play superheroes aren’t just having fun; they are actually gaining characteristics that help form their personality.
When faced with a challenging task, children may shy away, or have a difficult time focusing. But ask a child to do a challenging or mundane task as Wonder Woman or Superman and you’ll likely have a completely different reaction.
Superhero play empowers kids to feel brave and in control of their world. It also helps your little superhero to develop what adults would agree is a life skill – the ability to persevere in mundane situations.
A recent study revealed that young kids who pretend to impersonate a cool character stick to monotonous tasks for longer periods of time. The report, published in the journal Child Development, coined the term, “The Batman Effect” as a way to improve perseverance in young children.
Researchers asked 180 kids between the ages of 4 and 6 to complete a mundane but "important" task resembling a real-world dilemma. The children were told to work as long and as hard as they could, but they were warned the task would be boring – though they were able to take breaks.
The group was split into three. Researchers asked the first group to do the job as themselves, instructing them to periodically ask themselves, "Am I working hard?"
The second group was instructed to refer to themselves in the third person. They periodically asked themselves, "Is ______ working hard?" (They filled in the blank with their own names).
Researchers instructed the third group pretend they were a hard working character like Batman or Dora the Explorer. They were given a prop, like a cape, to remind themselves to act like their character. Then, they were told to periodically ask themselves if their character was working hard, such as, "Is Batman working hard?"
The children who referred to themselves in the first-person took the most breaks, and struggled to finish the task at hand. The children who referred to themselves in the third person did a little better, likely because they separated themselves from their own emotions.
The third group performed the best. The study concluded that children taking on the characteristics of a hard-working character gave them confidence that they could keep going.
“Although all children were prompted to think about whether they were being a good helper, this reflection was most successful when it involved impersonating a character,” the study’s authors explain.
“Compared to those who took a self-immersed perspective, children who were asked to reflect on the task as if they were another person were less likely to indulge in immediate gratification and more likely to work toward a relatively long-term goal.”
Why would we want our children to pretend to be a superhero to complete tasks? To help boost their confidence that they have not only the focus, but the will and strength to do it!
So next time your child is having a tough time focusing, ask “Pretend you’re Batman - what would Batman do?”