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Relations Between Fantasy Orientation and Emotion Regulation in Preschool

Research Findings: Emotion regulation is a strong predictor of both short- and long-term peer relationships and social competence and is often targeted in preschool curricula and interventions. Pretense is a natural activity of childhood that is thought to facilitate the development of socialization, perspective taking, language, and possibly emotion regulation. This study investigated whether fantasy-oriented children, who engage in more pretense, demonstrate higher levels of emotion regulation. Prekindergartners (n = 103) and teachers were given a battery of measures assessing children’s emotion regulation, fantasy orientation, theory of mind, and language. Results from hierarchical regression analyses indicated that children’s proclivity toward fantastical play (their fantasy orientation) uniquely predicted 24% of the variance in their emotion regulation skills over and above typical predictors: age, theory of mind, and language skills. That is, children who participated in more fantasy pretense demonstrated better emotion regulation skills than their peers. Practice or Policy: The present study suggests that future research, curriculum, and interventions should focus on targeting fantastical pretense to assess causal mechanisms of emotion regulation development. Teachers and parents should encourage children’s fantastical pretense, as research suggests it may be an important contributor to the development of critical socialization skills such as emotion regulation.