Coping Strategies for Kids Using Pretend Play


Parenting is one of the most challenging yet rewarding jobs you will ever have. Navigating your kid’s vast and varied emotions can seem overwhelming at times. Every single day brings new situations, activities, and changes. Your kid’s emotional response to these changes can quickly turn into a meltdown.

Coping strategies can help prevent these meltdowns as well as help you keep your peace of mind. Are you struggling with what transition strategies to use for different scenarios? Below, we share coping strategies for children using pretend play and show you four different application methods.

These coping strategies are helpful for kids of all stripes. For children with ADHD, anxiety, autism, or sensory processing, these tools may help turn a challenging day into an enjoyable day.

What Do We Mean by Coping Strategies?

You may be wondering what exactly we mean by coping strategies. For most kids, transitions from one activity or location to the next tend to be tricky to navigate. Wait times between activities, moving from preferred activities to one your child doesn’t enjoy as much, or just getting ready for bed are times of transition in the day. There are many coping strategies for kids to help with these transition moments. These strategies help when transitioning between activities or when it’s time to leave from visual cues and visual schedules to imaginative play.

At The Rabbit Hole Theater, we cope with the transition between our activities through creative pretend play. Mastering coping strategies is an excellent tool for those hard days or activities. Using pretend play adds a layer of fun to any upcoming transition, too!


How to Use Coping Strategies to Transition from One Activity to the Next

Whether it’s summer vacation or a typical school day, daily schedules may vary for kids. Even as an adult, transitioning between activities can be challenging, which helps us understand that our children often need help transitioning. Asking kids to stop playing with their favorite toys or even to clean up their toys for dinner can be a challenging transition to cope with. 

Many of you likely remember the ways that your parents were able to get you from one activity to the next. Maybe your mom bounced like a kangaroo with you as you left the park, or your dad acted like a horse while you were the next champion rider as you traveled from the pool to the car. Like you, your children will have memories of these moments, and making them as fun and enjoyable as possible will make each transition time easier and more manageable. Getting creative with pretend play to help cope with transitions will help create those enjoyable and memorable experiences. 

Next time you ask your children to clean up their toys, grab your toy boxes and act as if they are dump trucks, and have them load the trucks full of all the toys. Finish by letting them know that the dump trucks are full and need to head to the station. 

If your kids struggle to transition from one location to the next, think of one of their favorite characters and create a story. For example, “imagine you are a bunny; let’s hop all the way from the pool house to the car. Try keeping your feet together all the way there.” We encourage you to get as intentional as you can to make it more engaging for your kids.


Coping Strategies for an Enjoyable Car Ride

Some children prefer car rides as their time to nap, yet others prefer a very vocal, active ride. We have a few pretend play coping strategies to create a more enjoyable ride for all passengers in either case. 

If you know about a particularly long, planned car ride, it’s best to let your child know about it in advance so the transition is more manageable. Talk through the drive with them and allow them to choose what they would like to use to entertain themselves while in the car are ways to include and empower your child. At the Rabbit Hole Theater, we have resources available to help your child make the most of those car rides. We have created our very own audio tales that are interactive and imaginative. From mermaid tales to adventures through the magic clock shop, there are tales your child is sure to love to follow along with. Our audio tales are now easy to listen to on our Spotify. 

In addition to our audio tales, we have coloring sheets that include characters mentioned in the Queendom destinations of the audio tales. Download and print them out for your next car ride for your children to color and keep them in their imaginations while listening to an audio tale.

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Using Pretend Play as a Coping Strategy to Transition Fighting Siblings

Many siblings enjoy playing together. Even so, most siblings will find themselves in an argument at some point. For a parent, this can be stressful. However, this is where coping strategies come in. Pretend play can help you navigate the situation and provide sensory breaks. Redirection through pretend play acts as a great tool to switch gears and get some much-needed teamwork. 

For example, interrupt the tension by saying, “Look what I found! A note from a Unicorn Princess.” Have the character ‘ask’ the siblings to do something together, which could include building a castle from pillows or going outside to ‘find’ a stuffed animal that’s hiding. You could also choose to create a series of ‘break cards’ that your kids can choose from during tense moments. These break cards will empower them to take control of regulating their emotions. You can use a visual timer to give the activity a set amount of time to help as you transition them from arguing to having fun together. Add some magic that can inspire them to work together! Helping them dive into their imagination can quickly change a gloomy day into a magical memory.


How to Use Pretend Play as a Coping Strategy When it’s Time for Bed

Lastly, bedtime is another transition that kids often need help with. Incorporate play into your bedtime routine by including stuffies and toys! Kids can help get their toys ready for bed while you help narrate their toys’ voices. You can ask their toy things about their day, ask them what snack they would like (using play food), and more. Then, narrate the answer making the toy come to life! You may even find that your kids are willing to open up to their toys as well. 

Speaking to their toys can give them a place to talk about their day. It is beneficial if your child experienced something hard that day. You can use the dialogue between your kid and their toy to help them express their thoughts. Another option is to help your child use the stuffed animal to role-play a complicated emotion. For example, if your kiddo had his feelings hurt at school, their toy could express what hurt him and how that made him feel. It’s also nice to make up stories and include your kids and the toys they picked into that night’s adventure.

In conclusion, it’s no secret that parenting or caregiving is hard work!

However, using tools such as pretend play as coping strategies helps ease some of the difficult moments. From transitioning from the pool to tucking your kiddos into bed at night, pretend play brings magic into the day. Focusing on coping strategies using pretend play can help ease your kid’s anxiety and make them feel more secure. With some creativity and a little fairy dust, every transition time can feel fun!

Want to know more about the world of the Rabbit Hole Theater? Feel free to get in touch via our online chat option or check out our FAQs for more information!
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Mary Eriette Atanante

Teacher and Characters

  • Favorite Character:  Sabirel
  • Favorite Magic Powers: Flying
  • Favorite storybook land: Camelot

Mary has been a teacher at The Rabbit Hole Children’s Theater for the last four years. You can find her teaching a class, creating activity books, dressing up and performing for kids or jamming at a birthday party! 

A recent graduate from San Francisco State University studying Theater and Communications,  Mary  loves to help children unlock their imaginations and motivate them to create the wonderful ideas in their mind!

Chelsey Mony


  • Favorite Character:  Alice 
  • Favorite Magic Powers: Flying
  • Favorite storybook land: Wonderland

Chelsey is an actress, dancer, improviser and has an exuberant passion for musical theater. Her love of theater began when she was a little girl.

When she is not helping those in need, she found joy in performing in a community theater group in Las Vegas- having starred in multiple shows for the past 5 years.

Chelsey  moved to the Bay Area in 2019, and  joined the Rabbit Hole team. Her love of theater and wonder will be an excellent asset to the team as she encourages children to find their own unique love of theater and wonder.

Creating a safe space for children to exercise their imagination and creativity is her mission in this work.

Melania 'Mel' Rivas

Head of Product Development

  • Favorite Character:  Sailor Moon 
  • Favorite Magic Powers: Flying
  • Favorite storybook land: Neverland

Mel is an eclectic, curious and creative individual who has learned and experimented with many different arts & crafts forms since she was a little kid.

Fascinated by the healing power of art and its ability to express our inner worlds, she has pursued and completed studies in art, early childhood education and psychology.

Mel has taught bilingual exploratory art to children during the last 5 years and now she makes use of her passion for creativity and children’s education to bring The Rabbit Hole Children’s Theater ideas to life for kids all over the world to enjoy!

Strider Patton

Project management

  • Favorite Character:  Wizard Merlin
  • Favorite Magic Powers: Invisibility
  • Favorite storybook land: Middle Earth

Strider Patton is founder and director, Brooke’s, husband and partner in The Rabbit Hole. A third generation self taught artist, Strider grew up appreciating and making art.

He is a professional contemporary visual artist himself, specializing in sculpture, murals and studio art. When he is not in his studio or on an installation, he is working with The Rabbit Hole Crew. Building sets, designing products, creative planning and the occasional puppet show keep Strider involved with the company from many angles.

He has worked with youth and communities since he was young, valuing the role that creative expression plays in individuals and communities lives.

Ariella Cooley

Head Creator.Sound Designer.Teacher

  • Favorite Character: Pirate
  • Favorite Magic Powers: Flower Power
  • Favorite storybook land: Narnia

Ariella Cooley has been teaching and creating at The Rabbit Hole since 2017. As a lead teacher, she uses theater games, song, dance, masks, puppetry, and crafts to tell stories with the kiddos in her class.

As sound designer, she pulls from her classroom experience to make the Rabbit Hole Queendom come to life aurally. Crafting whimsical underscores, creating kooky sound effects, and finding expressive character voices make her tasks endlessly enjoyable!

Ariella earned her B.A in Theatre Arts from UC Santa Cruz, focusing primarily on acting and directing. Her work as a vocalist and songwriter inspired her expansion to audio production and theatrical sound design.

At Rabbit Hole, she is able to tap into all of these artistic loves and fold them into her work with children.

Meryl Theo Press

Head Creator.Illustrator.Teacher

    • Favorite Character: A drowsy cat with a cupcake farm  
    • Favorite Magic Powers: Flying 
    • Favorite storybook land: Narnia not under the white witch’s rule

    Meryl Theo Press has an affinity for play. She brings humor, music, visual art, and empathy to her work at Rabbit Hole. With these tools she enjoys creating magical worlds for kids to inhabit, in order to stimulate their imaginations, encourage self-expression, and nourish joy.

    In the classroom, her focus is on “seeing” the child. In her illustrations, Meryl appreciates detail and seeks a thread of storytelling. In summoning voices for Rabbit Hole’s audio plays, she digs deep and scoops out the absurd characters within. She uses her longtime love of singing to bring musical elements to Rabbit Hole classes and productions.

    Meryl studied printmaking and painting at California College of the Arts and has performed with various bands in San Francisco, the United States, and Europe. She has been a part of Rabbit Hole since 2016. Meryl’s 9 year old daughter Vida is her most treasured and valuable collaborator.

Brooke Patton


  • Favorite Character: Glinda  
  • Favorite Magic Powers: Ice Magic 
  • Favorite storybook land: The Shire 

Brooke Patton spent that last decade in the classroom developing an imaginary play method designed to nurture creative confidence in early childhood education. She founded The Rabbit Hole Children’s Theater in 2012.

Having spent the first 8 years in the classroom she’ created heartfelt experiences for kids both in and out of the classroom. She’s developed lesson plans, theatrical kits, creative classes and productions all designed to nurture children’s creative development.

She comes from a strong foundation in theatrical arts and graduated from The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City where she studied Musical Theater. Brooke also holds a strong passion for human development linking the connection play servers for children’s creative development.

Her method is rooted in celebrating the creative process and honoring ideas that come from the child. Allowing kids to discover the depths to their creative potential and grow up with a sense of worthiness around their ideas.

She is a mother to an incredible little girl and loves her family with her whole heart.