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The Magic of Make-Believe

My living room is a disaster area.

I mean this literally: There's a sinking ship, and drowning passengers are flung far and wide, except for the lucky few who've made it into the laundry basket -- or rather, the lifeboat. Some small stuffed animals have been tucked into sandwich bags on the wall-to-wall blue carpet -- the wide blue sea.

"How the heck do you expect me to make lunches today if you use up my sandwich bags?" I demand.

Aidan, my 5-year-old, looks up from the couch, where he's currently conducting emergency rescue operations.

"But Mom, this is the Titanic!" he wails. "The passengers need those bags or they won't be able to breathe!"

I look again. I see it now: The bags are life preservers, enabling passengers to float safely to the sofa. I sigh and go back to the kitchen. I can always use waxed paper.

Imaginative play can be very messy business. It's also an essential ingredient for a happy childhood. Research proves that kids who are encouraged to pretend are more expressive, empathetic, and socially adept than those who aren't, and they may continue to be creative as adults. And you can get something out of diving into your little one's fantasy world too. "Adults tend to dismiss the urge to daydream as impractical or unproductive," says Dorothy Singer, a research psychologist at Yale University. "But playing make-believe games with our kids helps keep that sense of magic alive for us as well."

Holly Robinson is a mom of five in Massachusetts.