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jca's avatar

What harm (emotional harm) could come to a child who wants to pretend, in play, that they are a cat or a dog?

Asked by jca (35892points) November 26th, 2012

I have a five year old daughter and we also have cats and some aquarium pets. She loves dogs and wishes we could have one, but we’re not home for long stretches and so I think she understands it would not be practical.

I am a pretty laid back parent. Other than something that causes her physical harm, there is little she is not allowed to do (she is not allowed to write on walls or furniture, which she has never tried to do, and sometimes I will reprimand her if the house is clean and she starts making a mess). She is a good kid and everyone from teachers to babysitters have said how good she is.

One thing she likes to do in pretend-play is pretend she is a cat or dog. She crawls around on the floor, wants to be walked (crawling on floor with a leash on), or may pretend she’s an injured animal going to the animal doctor. She sometimes will do this with her stuffed animals, doctoring them, and sometimes she is the animal, needing medical care.

Yesterday at my mom’s house, she started doing that with a family friend who was visiting. My mom told him not to allow that and I heard her saying something to him in the living room. My mom told me later that she told him that one day she went to pick up my daughter at school and the kids were playing “house” with one kid as the mom and one kid as the dad, and my daughter was the dog, crawling around on the floor. My mom, who was in college in the 1960’s, told me she recalls sorority hazing rituals that were similar and she doesn’t think it’s good for the child’s self esteem to pretend she is a dog.

I am wondering what other Jellies think of this. Can it be harmful to allow a child to pretend she is a dog or cat?

I am asking this in “General” because I want to avoid the jokes and silly comments that are often in “Social.”

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28 Answers

tom_g's avatar

Completely normal.

Sorry, this is just infuriating. Kids pretend they are monsters, super heroes, girls, boys, jedis, statues, robots, cats, dogs, lions, bears, bears with super heroes on their backs holding lasers fighting girl/boy robot jedis. It means that they are doing what is developmentally appropriate.

digitalimpression's avatar

Sounds like a kid being a kid to me. Let them be a kid while they can.. before they grow up and start worrying about silly grownup things.. such as this.

whitenoise's avatar

Sounds OK to me. I wouldn’t worry.

Judi's avatar

It sounds like your mom might be projecting her own bad experiences on your child. This is normal pretend play. It’s when people are forced or coherced into subjection that it is harmful. Kids playing pretend and choosing their character is a way to learn and grow.

hearkat's avatar

It’ s typical early childhood behavior. I remember doing it myself, and other kids I’ve known – including my own son – also doing it. I believe that it is healthy to learn to relate other creatures and to learn compassion for them.

wundayatta's avatar

I won’t say it’s normal, because to me, “normal” is perjorative, but I do think it is creative and fun, and as long as she is having fun, I would not have a problem. Of course, if she starts licking the ground or rolling around in a dead animal, I think I would have a problem.

It is one thing to choose to be submissive of your own free will. It is quite another to be forced into submission. If your mother can’t see that, I’d be concerned about her health, but not your daughter’s.

SuperMouse's avatar

All three of my kids pretended to be animals at one time or another. They were everything from dogs to cats to a t-rex. So far they are all doing just fine. Just the other day one of the grand kids tied a scarf around her neck and asked my 12 year-old to “walk” her around the house. (I put the kibosh on it because of the whole choking thing). I would say this is perfectly normal and let her keep doing it. I have also heard that this kind of imaginative play is a sign of intelligence. BTW, in pre-school my middle son was almost always the pet when they played house; he is in seventh grade now, gets good grades, has a full stable of friends, and hasn’t barked or meowed in years. That last part is true not an attempt at humor, he used to make all kinds of animal noises including this growl he had from the day he was born that strangers always found incredibly disconcerting.

captainsmooth's avatar

There is nothing wrong with your child pretending to be a dog, cat or whatever else she fancies. Kids engaging in pretend play are showing us how much they have going on upstairs.

It sounds like your child has a healthy imagination.

RandomGirl's avatar

Whenever the kids in my church have free time together (Parents standing around talking can be really frustrating!), they play house, cats, dogs, dinosaurs, unicorns… You get the idea. They’re great kids and all the parents think it’s cute. Of course, they can get kind of loud at times, but generally they’re just being imaginative kids. Who needs Nintendo?!

bookish1's avatar

I agree with @tom_g , that is indeed infuriating.
What in blazes does sorority hazing rituals have to do with a 5 year old child playing make believe?

You know what, I used to pretend to be animals all the time. People frequently comment on how empathetic and kind I am. The only thing that has hurt my self esteem was having abusive parents and being used as a tool in their rotten marriage.

zenvelo's avatar

Montessori theory says your daughter is working something out, when kids play they are working on their understanding of the world.

My younger brother played being a dog, and so did my daughter. When my daughter did it, it was absolutely play, she liked to come up and nuzzle her head and also lick people on the cheek. And she would smile the whole time.

I think the person with a problem is your mother. Tell your mom to not thwart harmless play.

ninjacolin's avatar

Sounds like she wants to be a veterinarian.

newtscamander's avatar

It sounds like she has a favourite animal, dogs, and wants to know what it’s like to be one, how people behave with dogs, what it’s like to be a pet. She uses her imagination and plays creatively. It’s nothing to worry about, because it is something she is doing out of her own will, not something that is forced upon her or that she is peer-pressured into doing.

Dsg's avatar

Absolutely normal! I have 2 boys….8 and 6 yrs old. They play all sorts of things. They pretend they are pets, super heroes, chefs, hotel managers, police/firemen, and the list goes on and on. Imagination play is part of the development of a child. She sounds like she has compassion for animals and that’s a really good quality! @ninjacolin It does sound like she might enjoy being a Veterinarian.

Coloma's avatar

Agree with all of the above. Nothing “abnormal” about this sort of play in the least. The issue comes in if you make the child feel abnormal for their imaginative play. Do NOT give the child a complex over something so innocent and natural.
It sounds like your mom has some very rigid ideas about what is okay and not okay and thi sort of close mindedness is where the “problem” lies, not in your daughters harmless role playing.

Bellatrix's avatar

I think it is a very positive thing. She obviously has a wonderful imagination and feels free enough to exercise it. I wouldn’t interfere with her play at all.

bkcunningham's avatar

@jca, a couple of months ago my 3-year old granddaughter moved close enough to us that I see her nearly everyday. She is an only child and exceptionally smart and kind. When she is with me and I’m not giving her direct one-on-one attention, like if I’m cooking and she’s at the island sitting talking and coloring, she will get down in the floor and meow like a cat or woof like a puppy. She will only answer in the animal sounds if asked a question. She will make a meowing sound or a woofing sound with every word and stay on all fours in the floor at my legs.

I entertain it but my husband HATES when she does this type of playing. I have to admit it does get a little annoying when she only meows out answers. The minute I go back to the one-one-one attention and sit with her to talk or read or color or play, she stops the animal play.

bkcunningham's avatar

Just an additional note, she has two kitties and no dog at her house. Her favorite book at my house is Friend Dog. She has it memorized word for word. I’m so proud of her. She is on her way to reading. As many times as she is the animal, she will ask me to be the animal and she administers the “care.” I think it is normal, but it is a little strange. I don’t remember my children pretending to be a cat or a dog with this much passion. I wonder if there is a movie or a cartoon or a show they watch that is tied to this behavior. She is only allowed to watch a few shows on the Disney Channel but has scads of movies at her Mom and Dad’s house.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Won’t hurt a thing. When we were little and we played house, my little sister was always the dog, tied up outside the “house.” Today she is a high level engineer at Boeing. I wish I’d been the dog!

Coloma's avatar

@Dutchess_III Haha, I used to pretend to be a horse all the time when I was little. Horse crazy girl
Remember our dresses in the 60’s with sashes that tied behind your back?
In 2nd grade I was playing “horse” with a little girl, “driving” her with the “reins” ( sash of her dress ) and I ripped the ties off her dress. haha

I was so upset about getting in trouble for that!
My daughter used to play“horse” too, running around snorting and whinnying.Harmless fun.:-)

ucme's avatar

I predict trouble ahead if they start taking a crap in the park.

YARNLADY's avatar

There is a tremendous difference between a hazing or forcing a person to do something to purposely humiliate them and a child playing pretend.

My children have often pretended to be animals, birds and fictional creatures. When someone asks my two grandsons their names, they answer the name of their favorite Thomas the train friends, James and Thomas or one says “I’m Mario” and the other says “I’m weeegie”.

At home they love taking their food dishes and putting them on the floor to eat like the dog and cat. When their dad was little, he played in the yard with the dog and peed and pooped just like the dog did. When I saw him doing it, I told him that only dogs go in the yard, people go in the bathroom toilet. He said, “I’m a dog.”.

Sunny2's avatar

There’s nothing wrong with your kid. Your mom? . . . maybe. Mom’s friend? Yep.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Coloma yes I do remember the sashes…but not until you reminded me! Yes! We took turns being horses! And I was often cat woman on the playground. I would hid behind buildings and things saying “This is puuuuuurrrrrfect.” Nothing wrong with me today! (No, there isn’t! Nuh uh!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Shut-up!)

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

That is completely normal, and totally absurd to say that it would be emotionally damaging. My kids have both done that. My six year old will start acting like a cat and nudge her eleven year old sister who then plays along with her. They both crawl around the house, mewing and playing “kitties” until they decide to move on to something else. There have even been a few times when my little one wants Mommy to play too, so I’m in the floor with them, pretending to groom my face and mewing. I’m 33 for crying out loud, and pretend is still fun, dangit!

JLeslie's avatar

Seems ok to me too. The only thing I would worry about, and worry is the wrong word, is that your daughter is “playing” what she wants to play when she is with her friends. If she likes being the dog that’s fine, but if the other girls are telling her to be the dog, then she needs to know she can be whatever she wants.if you don’t see any indiciation they are pressuring her into that role, then I can’t see a problem.

OpryLeigh's avatar

At five years old I was always pretending to be an animal. I used to stuff the tie from my dressing gown into my trousers and pretend it was a tail!!! I also used to put my Grandmother’s shoes (which made a similar sound to those of horses hooves on concrete) on and pull the wheelbarrow behind me pretending I was a cart horse. I can’t remember what age I stopped doing this but it certainly didn’t do me any harm.

Buttonstc's avatar

Your Mother is making a mountain out of a molehill.

Your daughter is totally normal and exercising her imagination.


Talk about a sign of intelligence ! Obviously the kid has figured out how to get attention even if you’re preoccupied with something else. Really really smart (even tho it irks you a bit :)

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