Updated: Feb 22, 2020
Dressing up in costumes is an important type of play that every child needs to experience. Children seek it out naturally. Today your kids will play as pirates, tomorrow they are superheroes, the next day lords and ladies at a tea party.
The costumes they use reinforce the scenarios so that these rituals have profound positive effects on their development. Here are the benefits of playing with costumes.
1. Dress up play fosters the imagination
Children have vast, open imaginations. They aren’t constrained by what they know about the world; their minds can go anywhere. They’ll make connections you and I never would because just don’t know any better.
When children play dress up, they root their imaginative stories in reality for a short while, giving them a chance to explore it more thoroughly. For example, if your child dons a fireman’s hat, he practices helping people, community service and bravery.
2. Dress up play lets them explore themselves
By pretending to be other people, children experiment with new ideas and behaviors. They can decide what they like and what they don’t. They can explore the elements of a new identify and take back to themselves whatever they like.
Maybe your child pretends one day to be a cowboy. He decides that working on a farm isn’t for him, but he still loves animals, which leads him down a path to becoming a veterinarian.
3. Dress up play strengthens relationships
Playing with costumes is a strong lesson in empathy. By “living” the life of someone else, your child has to put themselves in that person’s shoes. How do they feel? What are their motivations? How would they behave in certain situations?
This strengthens a broader skill: the ability to understand other people’s feelings. It will help them deal with and work with people in school and at their jobs.
4. Dress up play establishes gender identification
While there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules for gender identity, most people fall into typical categories. As children play with costumes, they experiment with different gender identities and the behaviors of those characters.
Boys are usually drawn toward fathers, builders, heroes, and servicemen, and women are drawn to artists, mothers, teachers, and dancers. It is quite normal for children to experiment with different gender roles as they learn about themselves.
5. Dress up play improves communication
Dress up forces children to experiment with new language. They have to anticipate what, for example, a ballerina would say, or how a space explorer would speak. This gives them chance to practice with words and phrases they wouldn’t normally use.