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Author Advocates Free Play in USA Today

Make-believe is more than child's play. It's crucial to the development of creativity, empathy, learning and problem-solving, but it's being squeezed out of the lives of many children, says psychologist Susan Linn. In her new book, The Case for Make Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World (The New Press, $24.95), Linn says parents must limit their children's screen time and give them simple tools that encourage creative play. USA TODAY talks to her about the building blocks of make-believe.

Q: Why is play essential to children's mental health and creativity?

A: Children use make-believe to conquer their fears and explore their hopes and dreams. It's in play that they get to initiate action instead of just constantly reacting. It's a safe haven for honest self-expression.

Q: How have you seen children use play to express themselves?

A: There was a little girl whose parents told her she was going to have a new sibling, so she slid off the couch, picked up a baby doll, whomped it on the floor a few times and hurled it across the room. Then she turned to her parents with a big grin and said cheerfully, "No more baby." She couldn't say, "I'm afraid I'm going to be replaced and you won't love me anymore.' She didn't have the words to express the powerful feelings she was having, but she could play about it. She continued to play about babies through her mother's entire pregnancy. She diapered her doll…

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