Superhero Costumes Come to Parents’ Rescue, a Feb. 8 Wall Street Journal article, featured a recent study by Assistant Professor of Psychology Rachel White. White found that pretending to be a strong-willed character helped children be more persistent in performing tasks.
The characters from which the children in her study chose were Batman, Bob the Builder, Rapunzel (from the movie Tangled), and Dora the Explorer. Children who impersonated a hero stuck to a tedious task 46% of the time, compared with 29% for the children whose self-talk was in the first person, according to the study published in December in Child Development.
“Pretending to be strong and admirable can help a child take on those characteristics of confidence and competence,” said White, the lead author of the study.
Pretend play can also reduce anxiety and stress, helping children regulate their emotions, says Stuart Shanker, author of “Self-Reg,” a book on building executive-function skills. It also activates the brain’s reward system, transforming an onerous task into something pleasurable.
Children encouraged to don a cape and pretend to be a patient, strong-willed superhero such as Superman or Batman may be able to persevere at boring tasks and wait longer for rewards (delayed gratification). These pivotal skills are linked in research to better grades and social skills in adolescence.
So dress your children up as Superheroes or Princesses and start nurturing important life skills in them today!