Dress-up play isn’t just fun for little kids, it’s an
important activity where they use their imaginations, build vocabulary
skills, gain confidence, and more. With dress-up play, a child can be
anyone she likes, from a superhero to a doctor, a baker to a fashion
model. Yes, even a princess or a frog.
Dramatic dress-up play is roleplaying and storytelling
that helps children develop ideas about how the world works. When he
straps on a tool belt, your son is trying to figure out what it’s like
to be a construction worker. Your daughter puts on your high heels and
skirt, and grabs some props like a purse, and acts out what it’s like to
be a mommy. And there are many other benefits too.
Gross motor skills will be developed when your child
uses large muscles running and jumping, casting a line like a fisherman,
running and dodging like a football player, or leaping like a dancer.
Dramatic play also allows children to practice fine motor coordination
by buttoning a jacket, tying on an apron, fashioning a cape from a piece
of material, and so on.
Dress-up play encourages interaction and communication
with others. It often becomes cooperative as your child
interacts and communicates about what he’s doing. Role playing
encourages teamwork and an interest in other children and what they’re
thinking and doing. Kids learn to negotiate in this way, to collaborate,
take turns, and create and play by the rules. There is also research
that has linked role play to empathy: Kids who engaged in it were more
skilled in judging how other people might feel than those who didn’t
role play as much.
Since role playing usually includes pretend conversations – solo or with
others – you will often hear your child using accents and other verbal
inflections that she imagines will help her become the person she is
dressed up as. This is a great opportunity to develop communication
skills. Second language learners especially benefit from this
One mom I spoke with said that her two taught themselves to get dressed
– shirts on the right way, shoes on the right feet, buttons and zippers
done up – because one day she was baking bread and couldn’t help them
with their dress-up costumes right away. In some role playing
situations, children pretend to do household chores, like vacuuming,
cooking dinner, and taking care of pets. They also try out jobs,
learning more about them along the way.
Stretching the Imagination
One of the big – and most obvious – aspects of dress-up play is that it
uses a child’s limitless imagination. By imagining himself to be someone
different, a child develops his creativity. Using different things in
new ways – pretending a piece of cardboard is a sword, a colander is a
hard hat, and a long skirt tied at the bottom is a mermaid’s tail –
flexes those imagination muscles.
And imagining yourself as a superhero is a way to feel powerful in a
world where everyone seems to be controlling the agenda and telling you
what to do and how to do it.
By dressing up as someone else, children build confidence in themselves.
This is an important aspect of growing up to be a secure, emotionally
healthy adult. And by encouraging and facilitating role playing, we can
nurture that confidence and help them understand that they have the
ability to be anybody they want and accomplish anything they desire.
Working Through Experiences and Emotions
When they are in their own little make believe world,
children can feel safe enough to explore their emotions. They can use
dress-up play to make sense of the world by acting out and working
through an experience they have had. So when your daughter pretends her
PJs are a doctor’s or nurse’s scrubs and checks her doll’s heartbeat
using a pretend stethoscope, she might be reliving something a bit scary
that she has experienced in real life. Pay attention to these situations
because your child’s dress-up roleplaying can be a window into his mind
and give you clues to what is bothering him.
Encouraging Dress-Up Play
You can buy dress-up kits for children, including
Halloween costumes. But I think it’s much better for their imaginations
(not to mention your budget) if you collect items from your home or the
local thrift shop to outfit your family’s dress-up trunk. Here are some
ideas for items that can become something else:
Role playing is an important part of a child’s growth
and development, as well as in her role identification as she grows into
adulthood. So help her dream her dreams and let her imagination kick
into high gear.