A Child’s Imagination is Never ‘Dangerously Overactive’

We are living in a time when clinging to the imagination of our children is more important than ever. So when I read about the preschool that reportedly banned imaginary superhero play in The Huffington Post, it made me wonder what is going on in the minds of the adults who created this policy.

So far this year we have quietly grieved for the children gunned down in Sandy Hook, CT by a complete stranger while they sat in their classrooms. We have grieved for the children and families who died or were injured during a bombing at a marathon in Boston. We have grieved for the children who parished during a massive tornado in Oklahoma City.

After each tragedy I envisioned the families who suffered such loss. I thought about the lost hugs, the lost laughter, the lost squeals of delight… the lost innocence.

The very innocence that allows preschoolers to lose themselves in a world of fantasy. A world where you can be the superhero one minute and a princess the next. A world where you are safe and free to explore and learn through pretend play. A world where imaginations are encouraged and fostered instead of deemed “dangerously overactive.”

Here is a copy of the letter sent to parents from an unnamed preschool originally posted on http://imgur.com/5A7ixT0.

Here is a copy of the letter sent to parents from an unnamed preschool originally posted on http://imgur.com/5A7ixT0.

According to an article in Psychology Today, theorists and researchers have identified the values of imaginative play as a vital component to the normal development of a child. Studies have demonstrated the importance of pretend play in children from ages 2 1/2 to six or seven years of age.

If there is ever a place for imaginative play it should be in the preschool classroom. The administration of the unnamed school should figure out how to foster and utilize this play instead of stifling or banning it altogether.

In my home-based daycare and preschool we do not frown on wearing costumes, flying, or saving each other from sharks and crocodiles hiding in the carpet. We love this kind of interaction and carve out special times for the children to engage in this kind of play. Do we allow wrestling or play fighting? No. Are we always mindful of the safety of the children? Of course.

But superhero play does not have to be violent. It is normal for three-year-old children to want to kick or jump on each other as part of the role play. This does not mean parents are raising violent and aggressive children. It also does not mean that parents are doing something wrong like exposing their children to violent television programming.

A quality preschool teacher should take the time to talk to the children, or better yet play with the children and demonstrate other ways. This is when the “fight the bad guys” part of the play is discouraged and instead children are asked to be superhero helpers who save people. Give the children tasks and maybe even put on a cape yourself to show them how real superheros can do it without the punching or karate chops to the head.

I understand that in a group setting there has to be limitations and safety must come first, but I take great issue with a place entrusted with the care and education of children blaming unruly behavior and mismanagement within a classroom on a child’s imagination. You see, a child’s imagination can never be dangerously overactive. The danger lies with the grown-up who tries to limit the imaginative spirit and character of a child.

How would you react if your child’s preschool program sent home that letter? Leave a comment below or join the discussion on the Tiny Steps Mommy Facebook page.



Nicole Dash is a writer, blogger and business owner who lives in the suburbs outside Washington, DC with her husband and four children. She started her career as a journalist and copy editor. She also managed public relations and corporate communications for a national franchise company, but in 2006 started a child care business. In 2012, she launched Tiny Steps Mommy, a lifestyle and parenting blog that quickly gained a following and connected her to an expansive group of women-owned businesses. In 2013, she started a digital marketing consulting business that focused on growing community in an authentic way. Through those connections she was inspired to open Play, Work or Dash, a coworking space that also offers onsite childcare up to three hours per day. It is where like-minded professionals pursue their business goals with the extra level of support parents desire; a place where you "bring your kids to work." She is an active member of the Washington, DC blogger community. She has been published on The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Mamalode and Pop Sugar.




  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly, except about rough housing. Boys especially tend to be more physical in their play than girls, and this physical contact is a way for them to learn boundaries about what is ok and what isn’t (and I’m thinking of kids from grades 1 – 3 approx). Rough housing isn’t just about punching and kicking, it’s wrestling, playing a mild form of martial arts, sword fighting with sticks etc… when it’s performed while using imagination it’s fun for them! If it turns to anger, then intervention is needed (lol of course!) But as adults we are also so quick to intervene and stop any rough housing.. why? So that our precious little, breakable children don’t get any injuries whatsoever? I don’t think we are giving them enough credit to learn boundaries on their own or learning how to cope with getting hurt accidentally or accidentally hurting others. I read the article you mention and I actually laughed out loud, I thought it was a joke! I allow my daughter to imagine the day away, and rough house a bit if the game that is being played takes it that way! She’s learning that it isn’t ok to hit, but pretend hitting/kicking or soft hitting/kicking is acceptable to other children. If someone gets hurt, she apologizes and fesses up right away that she did it and it was an accident. The games usually consist of good guys and bad guys… defeating bad guys involves physicality… bad guys don’t get defeated by running away and being nice! All kids know that and I don’t think its detrimental to them if they play with a little bit of roughness. My generation and the one before me grew up watching Bugs Bunny…. What we need to do as parents is take a big step back and allow our kids to be kids. Allow them to run (I’ve witnessed parents at the playground telling their kids not to run too fast or they might fall!) and get dirty (I’ve seen parents tell their kids, while playing in sand, not to get dirty!!!) and allow them to set their own rules while playing with other kids. We as parents don’t need to intervene ALL THE TIME…

  2. Thank you Lori for your comment. I completely agree about rough housing. My own children, my sons and daughters (mostly my sons though), do it and I think it is a normal expression. I have never been one to intervene, unless there are tears or blood. I do not however allow it in the daycare because it doesn’t really have a place in a group care/school setting. If you are responsible for other people’s kids you do have to put their safety first and with play fighting there are always accidents. So, I do discourage that behavior at school and point them toward more positive behaviors. Interestingly, what I’ve noted over the years is that a child watching television programming has less to do with how much they play fight. It is usually wrestling and/or play fighting with parents, grandparents, older siblings, uncles, etc that give them the idea to be physical. So I personally hate when people are so quick to blame the media when they go home and wrestle around at home. Oh and getting dirty is fine with me. I am always amazed at the parents who get upset when their kids come home with paint on their clothes. They were creating and having fun and learning. It’s part of the deal:)

  3. Good article. I agree that some superhero play can lead to aggressive behavior, but I also agree that we can use children’s imaginations to reinvent this play to incorporate more pro-social behavior. One could say to the children, “There aren’t any bad guys at child care, since we are all friends here, so Spiderman can just hang out with his friends.How does Spiderman relax? What does Spidie like to read? What is his favorite snack, etc?”

    I’ve had plenty of Turtles, Rangers, et al, taking care of babies, reading books in the cozy corner and building roads in the dirt in my program.

  4. CA Maestro says:

    I am a comic book enthusiast. I grew up watching Japanese monster movies and Ray Harryhausen creature features with my family. Some scary things and no shortage of violence. To be sure – I was a complete pacifist as a kid. I don’t think I ever swung my fist at another kid in anger. Still, plenty of play-fighting, the kind with non-connecting punches and voice-generated sound effects. My instinct is to say that it isn’t a big deal.
    At the same time – the superheroes of my youth were also fairly pacifist. I’m talking about the SuperFriends, who never directly physically confronted their enemies, along with the Electric Company’s rendition of Spider-Man who was more concerned with numbers and letters than beating bad guys heads against the wall. Comic books have matured with the readers – today’s kids are exposed to any assortment of morally ambiguous anti-heroes, along with grittier versions of traditional heroes. Even the animated DC Universe has some brutal fight sequences that my wife has all but banned for our toddler until he’s thirteen.
    I’m not wholly against play fighting – as I said, I did plenty of it as a kid. I think the trick is to teach the difference between make-believe and reality, and to guide the play so that no one gets hurt.

    • I am so glad you noted the change in Superheros. There is a big difference between a cartoon written for children and explicit material written for adults. The adult material is cross marketed to children, many preschool aged children actually see the rated-R films, and with their friends struggle to make sense of mature themes. Like you, I welcome their play. It is a window to their thoughts. If it is a celebration of feeling brave and helpful… great! If it is letting me know that they are overstimulated and overwhelmed by media exposure… I want to know …so that I can help them make sense of their experiences and guide them back to feeling safe, and brave, and helpful.

  5. I understand the preschool wanting to keep kids safe, but unless they were having multiple injuries caused by several children and they were all re-enacting superhero scenes, this is way over the top. If I got this letter from my child’s school, I would definitely want to meet with the director for more info, but I think a school that implemented a policy like this wouldn’t be a school I would like anyway. 🙂