How Pretend-Play is Central to "Living in the Moment"

As adults, we are often either reminding ourselves or being told to remember that we should live every moment and be present in it. Human beings are unique amongst species in being able to reminisce about the past and project our dreams out into the near and distant future. While these abilities have had a profound and enriching impact on our experience, they also open up the possibility of spending too much of our present considering, imagining and yes, living in the past or future rather than in the present. We often see children as being able to live "in the moment" and contrast this with our adult experience where we have concerns about the mortgage, work deadlines, past regrets or pleasant memories, along with, ironically, our childrens' future.  All of these concerns take us away from living in the present. Yet, while the discussion is often framed in an all-or-nothing equation, it is really a balance between past, present and future that we need to get right and feel good about. Too much living in the present can bring us unexpected and unpleasant surprises in the future. Too much living in the past and future can leave us feeling empty or disembodied in the present.

Adults often marvel at kids' ability to live in the present. It is certainly true that in general, the balance for children is tilted toward the present as opposed to the past or future and that, inevitably, as kids age, the balance tends to shift slowly but surely away from living in the moment. At the same time, we should be aware that not all kids have the privilege of living predominantly in the present. For some kids, difficult experiences take them away from their daily experiences and bring them into the past. For others, their daily experience is too painful and dreams of the future are the only things keeping them feeling hopeful about life.

So how does pretend play figure into all this. Julia B. Levine, University of California, Berkeley defines play as, “those sequences of behavior that…emphasize process rather than a goal, and involve the substitution of one object, action, or person for another, resulting in an "as-if" or "what-if" quality..." Thus, pretend play is by definition process oriented meaning it involves living in the moment. There is no goal directed future purpose in it and the past is merely used as fodder for play. This process oriented experience seems to come naturally to kids. As adults, we need to encourage this by first being in touch with our own needs and abilities with regard to play. As parents we can provide the opportunities and toys necessary for pretend play. We can avoid discounting imaginary statements that kids make and instead build upon their wonder and imagination. We can model play as important even in adulthood as it remains one way to re-balance lives that too often leave us living in the past or future.

What experiences have you had with pretend play? Have you experienced this "living in the moment quality" in pretending? Leave us a comment. We'd like to hear your experience.

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