Dress Up: Not just for Halloween


Kids Playing Dress UpRegardless of how you feel about Halloween, there are some huge benefits to playing dress up. Author Jana Murphy sums it up nicely, in her wonderful book, The Secret Lives of Toddlers: A Parent’s Guide to the Wonderful, Terrible, Fascinating Behavior of Children Ages 1-3.

“Why Do Toddlers Love to Dress Up?

Sometimes a hat is all it takes to make a cowboy, firefighter, fairy princess, or pumpkin out of the average toddler. Playing dress-up is one of the oldest rites of passage for young children. It starts as early as before age two, and it lasts for years thereafter. In fact, some of us continues to play as adults-taking pleasure in dressing up in our roles as mom and dad, professionals in the business world, and once in a while, if we’re lucky, pretty lady and handsome fellow who go out for a fancy dinner.

‘I think human beings readily imagine what it would be like to be someone else,’ explains Paul Harris, Ph.D., professor of education at Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of The Work of the Imagination. ‘As adults, we do this when we read a novel or watch a film. Children–and some adults–do it more actively via role-playing.’

There are few methods of imitation more overt than putting on a costume, mimicking a voice, and trying to assume the physical attributes and personality of someone else. In its simplest form, dressing up includes toddlers putting on their parents’ clothes or accessories and trying to do some of the things they see us do. Of course, dress-up can be much more elaborate, with kids pretending to be characters they’ve seen on television of in the movies, or animals, aliens, or creatures they dream up themselves.

‘Toddlers learn by watching and imitating,’ says Martha Farrell Erickson, Ph.D., Senior Fellow fo the Children, Youth and Family Consortium at the University of Minnesota. ‘They mimic both real people and fantasy characters, but because they are so very physical, dressing up is an appealing way for them to think about what it would be like to be someone else.’

While your toddler is imitating you or someone else, you often have a rare opportunity to see what’s going on in their impressionable minds. Watch what  your toddler does when he’s wearing something of yours, pretending to be you, and see which of the things you say is making a lasting impression. Parents are sometimes shocked to hear their own words coming out of their toddler’s mouths. For example, a statement like, ‘I told you to eat your peas,’ doesn’t sounds so bad when you deliver it, but when your toddler repeats it to her dolly, complete with a threatening shove and an evil sneer, you may realize that you’re making more of an impact than intended when you ask her to clean her plate.”

This post brought to you by Miss Lisa.