Pretend play is a mainstay of childhood — one with big, long-lasting benefits. Dressing up is a special part of this play. Whether it’s pretending to be a cowboy, doctor or chef, donning costumes and embodying a character supports development in important ways.
Benefits of Dress-Up Play
Dress-up play usually starts around age 24 months, and continues to evolve as toddlers grow and gain more interest in what’s around them. Your 2 year-old will begin to take notice of different clothing people wear to work, what they wear outside on a cold or rainy day, or what characters in fairy tales look like. He will show an interest in pretending to be someone else through dress-up play.
Through dress-up play your child:
From hosting tea parties to fighting dragons, your toddler uses playtime to explore his world and create his own ideal play scenarios. This builds his imagination, and the more he plays, the more it gets a workout.
Pretending to be someone else opens the door to more complex imaginative scenarios. What’s more, the actual act of putting together costumes using on-hand items involves creativity: A suit can be shiny knight’s armor one day and a ballroom dancer’s tuxedo the next. Your toddler can use a baseball cap as a construction hat, chef’s hat, a nurse’s cap, or whatever else he imagines it to be.
Nurtures Language Skills
Pretend play incorporates a lot of language skills! Your toddler can build his vocabulary and language skills as he describes how he’s going to fight mean pirates, or walks you through his workday as a police officer.
When playing dress-up with someone else (or even a stuffed animal or pet), your toddler can learn to show empathy to others. As he dresses up like a doctor, for instance, he can show compassion for his patients. As a teacher, he can give kind words to his students as he encourages them to read.
Builds Social-Emotional Skills
Through pretend play like dress-up, your child participates in role-playing, taking turns, and numerous other social-emotional skills that boost his emotional intelligence and help him interact with others. He also discovers more about himself and others, like what he enjoys, or the responsibilities of people in various professions. Dress-up play may also contributes to the foundation he’ll need to develop theory of mind, or the understanding that other people’s thoughts and feelings are independent from his.
Develops Motor Skills
Dress-up play is a fun opportunity for your child to practice putting on and taking off clothes, which involves gross motor skills (like balance and coordination) and fine motor skills (movements of fingers, hands, and wrists).
Although there are plenty of adorable costumes out there to buy, you can also use what you have at home for dress-up play! Look through your closets for some clothing and accessories to use to transform your little one (or yourself) into a character. You can also see if friends or family members might have clothing or costumes they can donate. Get creative, too. For instance, an old baby blanket might make a perfect superhero cape!