21 answers

4 Year Old Daughter Pretending to Be Animals

So,
my 4 year old daughter has a VERY active imagination, which I think is wonderful! I do not want to hinder it in any way. My daughter will pretend to be a dog sometimes or a cat and it usually will last for a couple hours at the most. But for the last 3 days, going on 4 days, my daughter has been a horse. If I call her to dinner or just address her in any way by her name she immediately corrects me and says, "I'm not Madison, I'm Nay Nay"(Her horsey name, lol). Like I said I love that she has an incredible imagination but now going on the 4th day of this I want my daughter back. I told her "I really wish Madison would come back because I miss my little girl" and she said "I don't know when Madison is coming back, she went on a trip." She also talks in the third person, saying "Nay Nay is hungry" or "Nay Nay wants a drink". Is this strange to last this long? Has any one else gone through this with their children? I guess I just want to know this is a normal stage.
Thanks So Much,
~N.

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thank You, Everyone, for your responses.
It helps to know I'm not alone in this parenting thing. And it was great to hear some other stories about your kids. I used some suggestions, when she asked to watch cartoons and told her that horses do not watch cartoons only little girls, and she neighed at me and said "well this horsey watches cartoons!". She is just too quick sometimes but eventually when it was time for ice cream and she was not getting any then Madison decided to come back. We made a deal that she could pretend to have a pet horse for a while and not actually be one. We had a few days of a break and now today she is "Woof, Woof" the dog. It is kind of humorous and I am just trying to enjoy this age and feel blessed that she has such a great imagination to entertain herself.
Thanks Again, and God Bless!
~N.

Featured Answers

I used to have to buckle ghost boy (my daughter's imaginary friend) into the car seat and even in the cart at the store. It got old at the time but I miss it now.

My 4 yr old daughter is EXACTLY the same way, her horse name is Oushwa, she has at least 15 imaginary friends and half of them speak their own languages, have friends and family, a home, and favorite colors and foods and games, and all the names are strange or have a "y" sound at the end. Like last night she told my husband a story about a princess named Princessy and a king named Kingy and a wizard named Wizardy. She frequently pretends to be other animals at dinner like a beaver who only eats wood or a horse that only eats grass and insists we call her by the animal name and that we are a mommy, daddy, and big brother of the same animal. She pretends to be a bear and will only bear run around the house.
I do the same as another poster who does something only my daughter can do and she comes back...until the next time.
Good luck and keep having fun.

More Answers

My niece did the exact same thing, except she was a dog. She used the most annoying bark too. This went on for six months or more. She was so bad that the all their neighbors knew she was acting like a dog and one even got her a collar and leash as a gag birthday gift. She is now 7 and is completely normal. I think some kids just like to pretend. My SIL would finally just tell her that it was time to be a little girl again and ignore her if she was a dog. She would pretend for a few hours every day until my SIL stopped her.
Good Luck to you. There is a light at the end of the tunnel!

My 4 yr old daughter is EXACTLY the same way, her horse name is Oushwa, she has at least 15 imaginary friends and half of them speak their own languages, have friends and family, a home, and favorite colors and foods and games, and all the names are strange or have a "y" sound at the end. Like last night she told my husband a story about a princess named Princessy and a king named Kingy and a wizard named Wizardy. She frequently pretends to be other animals at dinner like a beaver who only eats wood or a horse that only eats grass and insists we call her by the animal name and that we are a mommy, daddy, and big brother of the same animal. She pretends to be a bear and will only bear run around the house.
I do the same as another poster who does something only my daughter can do and she comes back...until the next time.
Good luck and keep having fun.

My cousin did this for a long time. A couple years off and on. Maybe when she was 3 -5 years old. It was so annoying when whe would come visit us. She would start crawling around and barking! She is now a very succesful college graduate that just recently left for a position in New York in the business world. So......it does end and with nice results!

It's not a big deal, Nat. Really.

However, I would definitely maintain control and when it's playtime she can be NayNay. But when it's time for meals you expect her to respond to Madison. When you're at the helm of the situation, you don't need any extras. So Madison is to put Nay Nay in the barn and be Madison at mealtimes, or bathtime, or bedtime.

Otherwise, hey I did stuff like that as a kid too. I was a 2 in 1 pretense. I galloped around as Zorro's horse Tornado.

You could possibly be prolonging it by asking when Madison is comming back. It is very normal for children her age to pretend to be animals. If you walk into any 4 year old preschool of kindergarten you will see children, girls especially, playing doggie or kitty. I think it is a phase and she will get over it soon. Good Luck!

None of my children did this, but my granddaughter did. She pretended to be cats, dogs,and even her own mom...she even then called me mom and said her aunties were her sisters. I thought it was rather odd, but it was just a stage she went through. She corrected all of us as well. It was a game for her so we just played along. It only lasted a month or so...it will pass.

Sure sounds normal to me! I had a granddaughter who often was a dog. She's grown now, and perfectly normal. Kids are so wonderful at playing pretend. Sometimes they do it if they're under stress or worried/fearful, so you could think about that, but they also just like to do it for fun. She sounds like a great kid!

I used to have to buckle ghost boy (my daughter's imaginary friend) into the car seat and even in the cart at the store. It got old at the time but I miss it now.

It's normal, or at least your not alone, my 4 year old niece has been a dog for solong now. Whenever I would see her at her house or grandma she's on the floor barking. So annoying. She will be 5 in August and I think she is finlly starting to out grow it. Last time I saw her she was being a sweet little girl, but maybe because we were out at a fun play area.

Your daughter sounds delightful.My daughter Brooke was a great pretender and now she has a 5 year old daughter that is the same way.I loved it when the pretending went on for a few days but when I wanted my girl back I would tell her we had to do something that only she could do {not the princess or cat} she was that week. It usually worked We would then make cookies or go to the store that animals aren't allowed in and she was fine.Enjoy ,these are little things that you will smile and hold in your heart when she gets married and has a little replica of herself and she asks you if her little girl will ever quit being a cat.

My friends little sister (this was like 10 years ago) acted like a dog for months!!! She named everyone in the family, including me, after Scooby Doo characters. She literally crawled around on the floor with her tongue hanging out, barking and panting like a dog! I wouldn't worry too much about your little girl, kids are like a revolving door. One minute it's one thing and the next minute it's something entirely different....Good luck!!
R., Mommy of girls ages 2 & 5 in Ferndale

N.:
I have a five year old daughter that has an amazing imagination as well. She has multiple imaginary friends and also pretends to be animals. We take Danny and Ben10 (her imaginary friends) all sorts of places with us and she also has imaginary pets. She has stories of these two friends and how their parents died and where they live, etc. Very detailed, like they are real people. At first I was really worried but was assured by her doctor and other friends that its good she has such a great imagination and can entertain herself this way. I will say since she started school last year (5 day a week full time preschool) her imaginary friends dont come around as often. She still talks to them from time to time or references them being places. My daughter (Madeline) hangs out with her older brother quite a bit. He is seven. There arent a lot of little girls in our neighborhood so she does hang out with the boys quite a bit. I also think this might be why she developed her own 'people'...she didnt have anyone else so she created them. In my opinion I would say embrace your daughters creativity and imagination. From my own experience, Madeline is very bright, creative and independant. If you do have real concerns talk to your pediatrician. But I think its going to be ok.

J.

Sounds just like my 4 year old daughter. She'll soon forget about "Nay Nay" and then it will be on to something else. It's perfectly normal 4 year old behavior. Good Luck-have patience and keep remembering this too shall pass! ha :)

I had a good chuckle at this because my 5yr old does this. It gets VERY annoying after even a couple hours. When I want her to snap out of it I say things like "well, I was going to the park today but I can't take a DOG to the park, only little girls. Too bad, huh?" That usually works and if she tries to keep it up while gone I do it again "well I guess Bella doesn't get icecream cause she's not here... only puppy is here and puppies don't get ice cream" She'll get over it eventually. I remember doing this with my siblings at that age... we were monkeys. Good luck Mama!

My son was a dog on and off for years. It got to be a little frustrating until I read a Parents Magazine article about discipline. Anyway, I took the "dog approach" and he didn't like going to his bed or not going to grandma's because there were no dogs. So, he learned, and we learned when it was okay to be a dog and when not. I look back now and it was kinda funny and we did handle it with humor, but it was a struggle sometimes to remember to think like a 2 or 3 year old and a dog. I think it is pretty normal to discover your "pretending self". Believe it or not, Enjoy it because he doesn't pretend to be a dog anymore, he's a quarterback instead.
B.

HI N.,
Yes it's normal! I have 2 daughters, ages 6 and almost 4. They both pretend to be animals regularly, especially the younger one. And she will also correct me if I call her by the "wrong name". So don't worry! As you said, an active imagination is a great thing!
L.

My nephew did something similar. There was a factory near his house that they would drive by every day and he decided that it was his work. Day after day he would talk about getting ready for work, going to work, packing lunch for work, etc... When his Mom would drive by the factory and not stop he would get all upset. It went on for DAYS, maybe even a week and drove his mother NUTS. Finally, after she couldn't take it any longer she pulled into the factory, opened his door, got him out of his car seat, kissed him and told him to have a nice day. His eyes had never been so big... and the problem was solved. hahaha!

I'm not sure what advice to give you... maybe you'll have to take her to the vet or start feeding her hay, I don't know ; ). But it is normal. If you are concerned it wouldn't hurt to put a call in to your pediatrition, for peace of mind. But, I bet it's just a phase!

My cousin who is now 5 used to do similar things. When she was about 3-4 she used to pretend she was a character in cartoon or kids movie. I can't remember which. But she would go around the whole day talking in a different tone of voice and acting like this charater and only answering to that charater. I don't know how long it would last (hours-days) because I wasn't there 24/7 but it went on for several months with this one character. I think it's just a phase. She has a brother a couple years older so they used to play together like that. He wouldn't stay in character all day though.

Cute, I would maybe limit the behavior to a certain time of day. Tell her that Nay Nay, can only be there at certain times....

Both of my daughters "pretend" that they are many different things. However, they are very rarely the same thing for more than 30 minutes - let alone days. I would also be concerned that Madison has left. The concept seems kind of abstract for a four year old. My oldest is 4.5, so using her as a judge, I'm not sure she would come up with that type of concept. You might want to talk to your doctor on this one, or get some other professional advice (not sure what).

As far as talking in 3rd person - yes my girls have done that, at various different ages. It has gotten so bad at points that we tell them that unless they talk correctly, we don't hear them. Of course we do, but we don't give in to what they want. They've learned that if we ignore them, they said something incorrectly (they don't understand 3rd person versus 1st person) and usually figure it out very quickly and correct. At that point, we talk to them again and get them what they want. I think that is part of the whole language development skills and awareness.

It's really normal. Perhaps Madison is upset about something so nay nay is dealing with day to day life so Madison doesn't have to. Perhaps Madison...er...Nay Nay is just having so much fun that she wants to stay Nay Nay.

Try talking to Nay Nay "Well where did Madison go on her trip?" "Why did Madison go" Don't pressure her just play with her and ask questions. Sometimes leading questions like "Did Madison's feelings get hurt?" Once you find out what the something is bothering her is you can address it.

If it's just a case of play acting out of control because it's fun.
here is the trick I have used to get my son to stop play acting.

When she says that Nay Nay is hungry, take her outside and tell her Horses eat grass (or serve her a plate of grass.) If she protests explain that horses eat grass, only Madisons eat yummy (make whatever her favorite lunch is) Perhaps if Madison came back from her trip she could have some yummy.

If Nay Nay wants a story, tell her that Horses don't like stories, but Madison's do. When Madison comes back from her trip you would be more than happy to read her a story.

If Nay Nay wants to take a bath, offer to take her outside and hose her down (carefully) because horses don't fit or belong in bathtubs...and they don't need bubble baths. But if Madison came home she would fit in the bathtub and could have a bubble bath.

You get where I'm going.

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