Babysitting was the first thing I did as a job when I was a young teen. And like many a young babysitter, the main activity done to keep the kiddos occupied was the ever-classic “playing pretend.” Now, it may seem a little tiring to keep up with all the wild imaginings of a kid who wants to play. But, for those of you that are writers, you might be missing a gem of opportunity by treating it like a chore. Because playing pretend with a kid is a secret, safe, little garden to try out new story ideas, and encourage some imagination and creative output from the child you’re playing with.
The first thing that makes kids the best people to try very initial new characters and ideas with is pretty simple: it is so much less embarrassing. Plenty of writers have desired something in between kicking an idea around yourself and having the guts to run it by an adult friend when it’s still not feeling fully-formed. And I’m all for running ideas with friends, family, and anyone who you trust to listen and give good constructive criticism. But I’ll admit there are creative concepts that I’ve tried to express that have just come out muddled because of my getting self conscious in the middle of talking about them. I don’t think I’ve worried about being too silly playing pretend while babysitting. In fact, it’s safe to say some kids will happily out-silly you.
That brings us to a decent point to make. When you’re playing pretend, remember that first and foremost this is for the child you’re working with or the guardian of. It’s a good spot to try out ideas for sure, but if a kid’s not interested, it’s important to go by what they want. In fact, it’s a fun way to challenge yourself. Don’t look at this as literally writing your story. Look at is as a way to challenge yourself by rolling with any fun or silly thing the kid adds. If they want to be in Hogwarts as Harry Potter, see what a character you have would do in Hogwarts. It’s more about exploring the space than literally writing every little detail down. Consider this a story you’re writing together, and make sure that the kiddo is leading the charge on most things.
If the child you’re playing with is the storytelling type, it might be fun to build a little world with characters together. Ask them what stories they like best, and maybe build something collaborative after that. If they enjoy fantasy, ask them how magic would work if they were writing a world. If they like stories with aliens, ask them questions about what kind of alien they would make up. You’ll get some real cred as a babysitter that encourages creativity and storytelling in kids. Just make sure you give some credits to that babysitting or nannying or being a parent if you ever get that dream novel written, and let the kid keep the ideas that they come up with for their own future novel. This is more about getting creative juices flowing and exploring things you’ve thought of than having someone you’re taking care of come up with things for you.
I’ll be honest. I grew out of playing pretend a little later than everyone else. But luckily I had a younger brother, and also starting babysitting meant getting to play pretend again even more. Obviously don’t put pressure on any kid to be the place you can create. You are there for them and not the other way around after all. But if you do find yourself playing pretend with a kid or some kids, it can be a pretty fun space to play a character you’ve been working on, or introduce an idea you’re unsure about. Kids are great about not passing judgement and often give very constructive criticism!