Magic Hour

Here’s Why Kids Are So Obsessed With Making Potions

Double, double, toil, and... did you throw money in there?

My 6-year-old can spend an impressive amount of time in one sitting concocting potions at the dining table. One by one she’ll dump crucial ingredients into a metal mixing bowl filled with water, muttering who knows what and swirling everything with a wooden spoon after each addition. Salt, food coloring, feathers, glitter, a plastic dollhouse chair — everything and anything is fair game as long as it fits in her makeshift cauldron. She developed this fascination for potions well before she knew who the Sanderson sisters were (we only watched it for the first time as a family in the last month), but what is it about potions — both the concept and creating process — that has kids so captivated?

Why do kids love making potions?

As endearing as it is to watch your mini-me put so much focus and effort into concocting something you absolutely know will do nothing but buy you some quiet time and potentially clog the kitchen sink, there’s actually a reason why potions, and anything magical and fantastical really, is so alluring to kids of a certain age. “Around 5 or 6, we become much more aware of how big the world is, and that the world can be a little bit scary. And so, there’s a lot of magical thinking and magical play that starts to take place around this age,” explains Dr. Laura Phillips, neuropsychologist and Senior Director of the Learning and Development Center at Child Mind Institute. It’s rather simple: creating potions is a way for children to feel like they have agency and control and that they can keep themselves safe. “By casting spells and believing in fairies and all these magical creatures, it helps them to to imagine; feel safer in a world that’s starting to feel scarier,” she says.

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This checks out in our household. As my daughter gets older, she is both aware that things are happening outside her comfort bubble, and in some cases, even what those specific things are. At the same time she’s just exposed to more stuff and noticing different things. Such is the process of life and evolving. At this crucial age, when danger becomes a potential reality, it makes sense that children will look for a way to protect themselves and the people they love. One of her potions she’s been working on for a quite a while, for example, is a way to make sure her parents live forever.

What are the benefits to potion-making?

Aside from helping your child feel safer, there are developmental benefits at play when kids are making their own potions: organization, creativity, and problem-solving, says Phillips.

Plus it is is a sign that they are comfortable with “sitting with discomfort” if potion-making is coming from a place of boredom, which is especially beneficial to their emotional well-being. “Allowing kids to figure out what they want to play and how is so powerful and so important. There’s so much cognitive benefit to feeling bored and then deciding to mix potions,” she says. “Being able to tolerate discomfort is really important for developing emotional regulation.”

What if kids ask if potions are real?

There isn’t a negative aspect to make-believe, especially if it something that makes them feel safe and secure. But navigating how to respond to your child when they ask you if potions or other magical or mythical elements are real or not can be tricky. On the one hand, you don’t want to lie to your children, she says, but at the same time you don’t want to crush them. Be thoughtful about your response and to tread carefully. “I would come up with some answer that gives them permission to believe in something if they want to believe in it without lying to them or bursting their bubble,” says Phillips.

“You can say, well, there are things that exist in our imagination that feel very real to us. Is it something that lives inside your imagination and that makes you feel good? Then it’s real.”

At some point your child will probably outgrow their potion-making phase. But for now, if your kid is into creating fantastical elixirs, let their magical flag fly. It’s only giving them an outlet to feel safe, have fun, and express themselves through their creativity. And who knows, all this practice might even lead them down a potion-adjacent hobby or career, like as a scientist or chef.


Dr. Laura Phillips, PsyD, ABPdN, Board Certified in Pediatric Neuropsychology, Senior Neuropsychologist, Senior Director, Learning and Development Center at Child Mind Institute