Across ages and traditions, magical thinking is the simple belief that one’s actions have a direct impact on the events of the external world. It is the conviction that one’s thoughts, behaviors, and actions have a cause-and-effect relationship with succeeding events.
For adults, this can come in the form of rather benign routines and superstitions—a lucky bag or tie, or routines surrounding sporting events, are only too common even among the least superstitious of adults. For children, however, magical thinking is both an important developmental step, and a potential source of discomfort when hopeful wishes are left unmet, and bad behaviors are followed by unrelated and unintended consequences.
Perhaps the greatest gift a parent can provide a child is an understanding of what they are thinking, and how and why they are feeling. Our discussion of magical thinking is designed to help parents better understand and relate to their children’s perceptions of their worlds, and to better contend with the emotions that these perceptions can cause in the hearts and minds of their loved ones.
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“Pretending is a safe way to practice being an agent who changes the world. Magical thinking and pretend are essential for a child to learn to practice this idea of ‘I can make things happen. I can form a path to getting my way.’ It’s an extremely valuable developmental step.”
– Arthur Lavin
– Examples of magical thinking.
– The confusion that a child’s unspoken, unmet wishes can cause parents and families.
– Magical thinking affects emotions and behaviors.
– The developmental purpose of make-believe.
– Situations that incite magical thinking.
– Using parallel stories to manage a child’s feelings of responsibility or guilt for unwanted or negative events.