Excerpt: 'The Secret of Play'

When it comes to an imaginary pal, don't try to convince your child that this invisible buddy isn't real (so does not need his own seat at the table). It's best to just play along, including telling "Buzzy" that if he spilled the milk, he needs to clean it up. You can also use this friend to help your child manage challenging experiences. If a visit to a new daycare center or a doctor's office seems to be causing stress, have your child explain to his imaginary friend what to expect. His advice to his pal will clue you into his feelings. Or if you're trying to wrestle him into his pajamas, turn your attention to "Buzzy" and announce the start of the Great PJ Race. Just make sure your preschooler wins!

Playing It Safe
Take Mom's high heels out of the dress-up box and hem any clothes that may be too long—both are tripping hazards. Also, replace any pins, brooches, or badges with sharp clasps with more child-friendly accessories.

Loving Play: Sharing and caring

What you'll notice
Last year, your toddler made the big leap from parallel to more reciprocal play. At 2, she probably observed other children from the sidelines before jumping into the action and still needed your help getting comfortable with her peers. But now that she's a pre-schooler, she's more at ease and excited about being with other children. Though she probably won't really master sharing until her fourth birthday, she's definitely loosening her grip on her stuff.

The way your child and her pals interact will also change. Now they'll talk, laugh and enter one another's pretend worlds. You may even find that your child promotes one or two children to the rank of "best friend" (even if she doesn't know exactly what that means). Though you have probably decided who will fill her social calendar in the past, now she'll request dates with certain kids.

One heartwarming aspect of your child's behavior in the friendship arena is how easily and enthusiastically she makes friends. Within minutes of arriving at the playground, your child will be collaborating on a track for her new friend's plastic horse or marching happily arm and arm over to the slide. In contrast to unfamiliar adults at a dinner party, threes rarely engage in stilted small talk; they get right down to the business of having fun. (Interestingly, your child may do this even if she tends to be slow to warm up with adults.)

Why it's happening
Your preschooler is a better playmate because she's developing skills like taking turns and sharing. Her ability to delay gratification will develop further over the next few years—but she is starting to understand the give and take that relationships require. By her half birthday, it will probably be easier to wait her turn for the swing or for her chance to wear her friend's fairy crown.

Your child's problem-solving skills make it easier for her to resolve conflicts and to coordinate her play with her friends. For example, a young preschooler may still grab a toy, but when her friend then refuses to play with her, she learns to use a different approach.

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