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How much dramatic play is too much?

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My 4 year old daughter (who has a little brother) has recently begun almost constantly insisting that we play other identities than our own. (I'm a little baby, I'm Jason's mom, I'm a baby bird, I'm Hannah (one of her friend's mom's) - and "Dad you're Michael, or you're Henry, or you're the daddy bird" etc.)

I don't feel like imaginative play is something to discourage, and it feels like it is probably some sort of normal developmental phase and I shouldn't overthink it, but things have been kind of rocky at our house for about a year now because of some relatively serious relationship problems between mom and dad (me), and that makes me worried that she might be exhibiting a feeling of "wanting to be someone or somewhere else." Also, I feel like I don't get to see the real her as much as I used to, and I'm honestly just getting tired of all of this role playing. It feels constant. Is this normal?


Play is how kids work on whatever issues they're having. Often, if those issues are a bit scary, it helps them to adopt a different persona because it keeps things one step removed. So she has you be a daddy bird instead of just her daddy.

When kids have a younger sibling, it brings up all their need to be the baby and all their sadness about having to share you with the baby. So she has herself be a baby bird, or a baby, which is a way to get those baby needs met. Go with that in a big way and baby her as much as she wants. The more you meet those needs, the more you'll fill her cup and enable her to move on.

Now, why she would act out the parts of her friends' moms, I wonder. Maybe she is exploring how things are different in different homes? How she sees different moms act with their kids or husbands? I suspect she is grappling with something there, and close observation will teach you something about what she's trying to come to terms with.

So all of what you describe is completely normal. Kids under the age of six often spend a good deal of their playtime in dramatic play. Virtually all kids like imaginary play, but some more than others. My own daughter, who at 16 now does a lot of writing of short stories, did a lot of role playing as a four year old, trying on different personas. I think some kids are just oriented towards trying on different characters.

BUT I hear your intuition that maybe your daughter is expressing a need to "be someone or somewhere else." And you're allowed to be tired of role playing. You might want to play with this a bit. Say, "I know you like dramatic play, and we can do more tomorrow, but today I just want to be your dad and be with my girl and play a different fun game." You can also explore WHY she likes these various games, what she likes about each role.

Finally, when kids repeat the same story over and over, it often means they are trying to come to terms with something and they're stuck. If you see this happening, you can play your role in the story in a more creative way to shift the action and help the characters come to resolution.

I hope that's helpful!
Dr. Laura

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