The Developmental Benefits of Dress-Up Play

{For kids, playing dress up is just fun, but child development research shows us that it has real long-term benefits. Dress-up play is a win-win for kids and parents.}

Fall is in the air. Crisp mornings and leaves changing colors have all begun here in Colorado. Now, I'm not usually one to jump to the next season or holiday before it's time, but I have to admit I get excited about Halloween (and my kids too). We all love dressing up and there is something about the holiday that just takes you back to your childhood.

Costumes are Not Just for Halloween

Playing dress-up is not just for Halloween, though. Kids love to dress up in costumes and pretend to be different characters all year long. I fondly remember when my oldest son was about 4 years old, he went through a phase where he wanted to dress up in costumes pretty much all day. He would change outfits 8-10 times a day!

I loved it! Sure, I got tired of helping him in and out of costumes but I really appreciated his imagination. At age 4, he was at an age of make-believe and flexible gender roles. One minute he was a superhero, the next a policeman, and once in a while even a princess (which had to be improvised out of my shirts because we had no princess outfits!).

Related reading: Why Play-Based Learning is the Secret to Playtime with Your Kids

The point is that this phase of development in which kids' brains and ideas are so flexible is amazing. We should enjoy it and foster this type of play while this phase lasts. 

The Developmental Benefits of Dress-Up Play

What are Kids Learning Through Dress-Up?

You may wonder if kids are actually learning anything through dress-up play. The answer is a resounding YES!

Mental flexibility: we think it's just kid's fun to take on another person's identity but consider the amount of mental flexibility it takes to take on a role. For a 3-5-year-old child, it is a fairly complex skill to role-play a different person and actually stay in character.

- Self-regulation: preschool age kids are not known for having a lot of self-regulation skills but dress-up play can help with this skill. Role play encourages kids to take on the words and actions of another character. These types of skills require kids to self-regulate enough to limit their actions to those of the character, not their own (at least briefly).

- Role identity and relationships: in the 3-5-year-old range, kids are still figuring out their place in the world. This means negotiating good vs evil, male and female, teacher and student, etc. Dress-up play helps kids work through this understanding of role identity. They can take on different roles for a short time to help understand the feelings of another person. What a great way to learn empathy!

Related reading: Kids' Emotional Intelligence: Why Low-Tech Skills are the Key to Success in a High-Tech World

The Developmental Benefits of Dress-Up Play
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To encourage dress-up play all year round, not just at Halloween, you can stock up on costumes while they are on sale. Favorite characters are fun, but also consider costumes that aren't related to a TV or movie. This really helps kids "think outside the box" of screen-based roles. Many places have a great selection of everyday heroes (doctors, police officers, firefighters, etc). A great time to explore all the different roles your kids enjoy.

Sept. 18 ONLY-- 40% off costumes at Target. Stock up for year-long dress-up play!

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The Developmental Benefits of Dress-Up Play

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