Reversing the Elsa Effect

It’s not too late to swap out corporate characters for more imaginative play. Here’s how.

Reversing the Elsa Effect

We had never heard the name “Elsa” until we had our first baby. Like most new parents, we swore we’d never visit Disney World and pledged to keep any corporate characters out of our home. But, as the months and years passed, Elsa crept in -- along with all her best “corporate character” friends. We wondered where we’d gone wrong, and what we could do about it. Sounds familiar? Handling the corporate character curse is easier than you think, says Allison Klein, early childhood education expert and founder of Rose & Rex, an online toy boutique that specializes in imaginative play. “Find a balance between exposing your child to corporate characters, whose behavior and storyline are predictable, and providing your child with open-ended toys and dolls where the play evolves based on the child’s imagination,” she says. Below, Allison explains how to reverse the Elsa Effect, no matter what stage of corporate character immersion you’re facing, and recommends 5 playtime swapouts that can help put you on the path to imaginative success. 1. Who’s Elsa? I’m still pregnant or my baby is too young to care about corporate characters. Babies begin engaging in sensory play as early as 6 months old, but what we think of as true imaginative play usually begins between 18-24 months old. At this age, imaginative play is particularly essential because children are curious and are naturally using their imaginations as a tool to make sense of the world and process their emotions. The best and easiest way to incorporate more imaginary play is to simply notice and support those beautiful organic moments when your child is pretending. If your child sees a bird and starts flapping his or her arms, ask an open-ended question like, “How do you think it feels to fly?” or “If you could fly, where would you go?” At home, nurture imaginative play by keeping open-ended materials accessible like Play Dough and, for children ages 3+, wooden set of building blocks. The activity of building reinforces cognitive and physical fundamentals. So watch as young children excitedly construct, explore their senses, and create from their own imagination. When it comes to dress-up, choose dolls, plush animals or costumes without pre-determined expressions or identities so children can apply their own. Most importantly, engage in their play! By getting involved, you validate your child’s creative process, reinforce that play is valuable, and open up vital lines of communication. 2. The Occasional Elsa Appearance. My child loves playing Elsa during playdates, requests an Elsa birthday party and opts for Elsa on our monthly family movie nights. The best thing you can do to balance Elsa play, or any corporate character play, is expose your child to a variety of open-ended play opportunities. If your child is beginning to love Elsa, ask yourself why. Do they love Elsa simply because of overexposure or do they resonate with a specific part of her character? Understanding what attracts them to Elsa will help you better understand how to make her a catalyst for imaginative play. For example, if your child is fascinated by Elsa’s ability to freeze people, he or she may be exploring concepts of power and authority. Offer play alternatives that explore the same ideas and help them process their feelings, such as playing school, building a habitat for a powerful animal, pretending to be that powerful animal or creating a magic show. These subtle prompts shift the direction of play toward new possibilities. Make sure to offer open-ended suggestions that encourage original thinking and self-expression, rather than direct ideas for them to create. 3. All Elsa, All the Time. My child only dresses, decorates and requests to be called Elsa. If a child is playing Elsa all the time, a parent may want to consider offering alternative stories and characters—you don’t want your child thinking that they are only one thing, can only take on one kind of role or can only solve one kind of problem. We want our children to feel comfortable being their authentic selves. To reverse the Elsa effect, reach for children’s literature! Read a variety of fairy tales, myths and short stories. Pay attention to what parts of the narrative interest your child most. Once you complete the story, offer open-ended toys and materials to form a new tale or activity. For example if you read Strega Nona by Tomie DePaola—a favorite book involving magical pasta—you can complement the story by giving the child a pasta pot, tools from the kitchen and an empty pasta box from dinner. This provides a dramatic play experience that extends the story into their imaginary world. TRY THESE PLAYTIME SWAP-OUTS: Bunny & The Pea Set. “Once upon a time…” can take a child anywhere! Inspire your young storyteller with this enchanting, luxuriously crafted fairytale set. $127. Buy it here. Princess Anything Doll. Perfect for your young storyteller, this modern princess invites endless possibilities for imaginative play. A true friend, this handmade doll helps them make sense of their world, both real and imagined. $100. Buy it here. Make a Mermaid Kit. Take your adventures under the sea with a mermaid doll you make yourself. This easy-to-assemble kit nudges the dreamer and doer in young children, encouraging them to follow their creative impulses and enjoy the process. $20. Buy it here. Fairyhouse Kit. This set introduces your child to the wonderful world of fairies, and with the treasures hidden inside (moss tufts, feathers, acorn caps, fairy dust) they can build their own fairy house. $40. Buy it here. Design your own Butterfly Wings. This enchanting kit invites children to bring their creative vision to life by crafting their own butterfly wings and shaping a story to go with it. $35. Buy it here. Castle Block Set. A beautiful catalyst for building, storytelling or dramatic play, this wooden non-traditional castle puzzle inspires infinite fantasies, sparking the imagination without defining one direction. $55. Buy it here. Homepage photo by Mary Grace Bernstein. *We are so grateful when brands support our content and community. This post was sponsored by Rose & Rex. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

In This Article

    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

    With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

    Minimize smoke exposure.

    Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

    Do your best to filter the air.

    According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

    Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

    Our Partners

    10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

    You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

    Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

    As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

    Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

    Keep reading Show less

    29 last-minute family Halloween costumes you can pull together NOW

    If your little one is going as a lion, coordinating is as easy as breaking out the khaki!

    Here's how Halloween unfolds in most households I know: Mom spends weeks—even months—planning the perfect costumes for little ones. Then Halloween creeps up and they realize they need an outfit to coordinate with the kids' get-ups. What's a mom to do?!

    Thankfully, there's no need for fear or pressure: There are so many ideas for parents that are easy to make and still super clever.

    Keep reading Show less