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I have a four year old son who, when he gets older, I would like to introduce to RPGs. What types of non-RPG activities should I be doing now to foster enjoyment in the kind of make-believe that role-playing entails?

Some examples that I've already thought of (these are specific to situations that have already occurred):

  • If he pretends to be playing with a dog, I could pretend to interact with the dog to encourage his use of imagination and playing make-believe.
  • Since he enjoys playing with cars, get down on the floor and have pretend races with him.

I'm not looking for RPG Systems that a young child can play.

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What's the difference between Make-believe and Role-playing in your eyes? Because... I look at them as the same thing. Cowboys and Indians is LARPing without a system, IMO- so I wanted to get your take on that in terms of what you're looking for. Even your examples are RPing to a certain mindset. –  wraith808 Jun 4 at 16:18
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From my observations, roleplaying comes to children as naturally as breathing. No fostering is needed, merely the avoidance of admonitions to "stop daydreaming", "be serious for once", etc. that destroy childish enthusiasm. –  Michael Borgwardt Jun 4 at 22:20
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I think it's a ... stretch to say that the question is about parenting. –  wraith808 Jun 5 at 23:38
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@edgerunner Do you think I'd get a better response from the Parenting SE? (I don't.) –  GamerJosh Jun 5 at 23:56
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I can understand why someone might see this as a parenting question, but I believe it's on topic here. It may also be on topic there. –  Tridus Jun 6 at 23:33

6 Answers 6

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Read To Him

You should be doing this anyway because reading to kids is good for them in general, but it's really handy here. Both to encourage reading, and by mixing in stories of adventure you can let him use his imagination and foster that type of development.

Play Games With Him

You're already doing this. Keep it up! Make believe games are great, as they're pretty close to RPGs already. Board games with simple rules that kids can play are also good for learning how to follow rules.

The most important thing really is that if "games with parents" is an activity that he grew up with and likes, it'll be pretty easy when you're ready to invite him to an RPG by saying "we're going to try a different game tonight."

Play RPGs Yourself

Kids tend to internalize activities that are going on around them frequently as normal. So, if you want to introduce him to gaming later, you should try to game. If he sees people having fun doing that, he's going to ask what it is and be interested in what's going on.

You don't have to let him play right away when he asks, but it sets the stage for this being an activity that you do. (My son likes it when I roll dice, but he's too young to do it himself because he wants to eat them. One day I want to let him "help" by letting him roll for the monsters.)

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Great point about kids wanting to do what their parents do (until they hit their teenage years at least). –  Joshua Aslan Smith Jun 4 at 16:24
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Definitely. My kid isn't old enough for RPGs yet, but keeps making up her own "talking games" in imitation of me. She made a Minecraft "character sheet" yesterday, in fact, after she saw me using a character history worksheet. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 4 at 17:00
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For reading, I also recommend the Choose Your Own Adventure (Dragonlark series for young kids specifically) books to give control over the outcome. Put them into other stories, by name or emphasis (oh the places you'll go) to foster imagination. Fighting fantasy is also a good series, and lets you teach basic addition skills while building imagination. –  Maldrak Jun 6 at 23:13
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For games, there's an interesting article about Candyland being a gateway game to role-playing games at the Advanced Dungeons and Parenting blog. –  Maldrak Jun 6 at 23:21

Engage Your Kids in Shared Storytelling

Just as reading to your children is hugely important to foster a future love of reading, I think story-telling is an important activity, too. When my kids were little, I'd sometimes engage them in shared story-telling. Give them an opening theme - "One day, Prince Jacob rode out of his castle early in the morning to see the countryside and enjoy the day. He hadn't gotten far when all of a sudden..." - and then encourage them to continue the story.

Don't get hung up on outlandish or nonsense responses, just go with it and have fun. I've always held that roleplaying was a form of interactive literature, and getting kids confident with improvisational storytelling will prepare them for the kind of interactions that will be expected when you introduce them to RPGs.

(As an aside, all three of my kids are role-players. I currently participate in a weekly game with my 12-year old son.)

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I agree with this although I'd add that another component important to preparing for (most) RPGs is talk about why (from their POV) people in the story do things. A story can include those things but doesn't have to address motive, whereas any kind of playing "in character" in an RPG has to come to some extent from character motives. Which is not to say that an RPG has to consider in-character motives, just that most do. I suppose someone will come along now can call me a brain-damaged victim of Mark Rein*Hagen for even contemplating that such nonsense could be a component of RPGs ;-) –  Steve Jessop Jun 5 at 12:28

focus on games involving a physical object, yet using imagination

The floor is lava is a great example of this (so long as you supervise and don't mind your kid getting all over your furniture). It lets you and your child utilize your everyday surroundings to create fun.

Build Forts with pillows, blankets and furniture. Pillow forts (as I call them) were a favorite pass time of myself as child. They were my castle, my secret hideaway, and helped create an idea of personal world. Building the forts themselves can be fun and enjoyable and you can help train his imagination by describing the forts and the world they exist in and then have him try to get in on the imagination fun.

Read

Reading stories to your child/having them read relies on their ability to create mental images of events as they unfold.

Draw on their favorite TV shows and movies for inspiration

When you are playing with your child try to get them to imagine themselves in their favorite fictitious worlds while playing the games you would normally play.

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Draw on their favorite TV shows, but not on their favorite TV. That will end badly. –  corsiKa Jun 4 at 16:43
    
Given the examples I take it your favorite TV shows include Community ;-) –  Steve Jessop Jun 5 at 12:34
    
@SteveJessop complete coincidence, though I do like the show, I extensively did both of the game examples a lot during my early childhood. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Jun 5 at 12:39

Create stories and adventures with toys, plush and otherwise. Give them persistent personalities. Get the child to participate in these fantasy adventures.

Stuff like: Teddy bear goes on adventure to find the cookies. How does teddy get down? How does teddy avoid the cat/dog (ie wandering guard)? how does teddy get up to the cookies? etc.

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I successfully raised two kids now 19 & 17 who have both become avid RPG gamers themselves. I think some of the points brought up here are exactly right. I read to them all the time, and they grew up watching my friends and I RPGing. But I also took an interest in their own pretend games they made up themselves. I slowly introduced them to setting up rules to the games, and taught them that the only way to be fair when playing was if everyone followed the rules. They both managed to pick up all on their own that there are times when rule really do need to be broken ;)

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One thought: Expose him to acting -- children's theater and so on -- to show him that adults can also play "make believe" though they usually do it in a somewhat more structured way.

Another, a few years from now: There are now LARP (Live Action Role-Playing) groups in many elementary schools and high schools. That may hold the attention of kids better than sitting around a table will, since it involves physical activity and props in addition to imagination. I've got a niece who got into that early and has stuck with it into high school.

Oh, another "real world roleplay" sort of environment: the Society for Creative Anachronism or other "recreational re-creation" groups. Less "game", but still an exercise of both research and imagination. Some events specifically invite the general public to come and see what folks are doing; in the case of the SCA that can include swordfights and archery competitions, craftwork displays, period dances and music, and lots of folks running around in period costumes of varying degrees of accuracy and ambition.

But I also agree with the comments earlier: Roleplay comes naturally to kids. The trick is finding ways for them not to feel forced to give it up as they age.

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