Dress-up games: why they’re good for children

From around the age of three years, your child might enjoy dress-up games.

Dress-up games let your child act out different roles, explore ideas about the real world and develop her imagination. For example, she might choose to be a pirate stomping around and scaring people, or a doctor giving her teddy a check-up.

Dress-up games and pretend play also allow your child to explore and express emotions in a safe way. For example, your preschooler could pretend to be kind like a teacher or brave like a police officer.

What you need for children’s dress-up games

Collect a box of clothes and other things your child can use for dress-up games. Your collection might include:

  • old clothes, especially fun and colourful clothes
  • shoes and boots – especially shoes that let your child walk differently, like platforms or heavy boots
  • hats, belts, handbags and jewellery
  • pieces of fabric and scarves – these make great capes, turbans, veils and shawls
  • simple dress-up props – you can buy these from a bargain store or make your own.

How to play dress-up games with your child

  • Step back and let your child take the lead. Avoid telling your child what he should be or wear. Creating an outfit and a character is part of the fun for your child. For example, he might use his imagination to create a superhero outfit from a towel and swimmers.
  • Get into the moment with your child by asking her if you can play too. Follow her lead. If she wants to be a doctor, maybe you can be a patient. Extend the game by asking questions and inventing new scenarios. For example, ‘You’re bandaging my broken arm? Will that fix it? Ow! It still hurts. What else can you do?’
  • Give your child a mirror so he can see himself dressed up as another character. He might enjoy doing different poses or pulling faces. For example, he could be a scary monster or a silly clown.
  • Sometimes your child might want to dress up and play imaginary games by herself, or with her toys. You might hear her talking to herself in different voices as she plays. It’s OK if she doesn’t want you to join in – you can just ask her another time.

Adapting dress-ups for children of different ages

Your younger child might just enjoy putting on and taking off different things. For example, she might want to try on different hats or clothes without getting into a character or an imaginary game. You can still join in – for example, ‘You look like a rodeo rider in that hat. Can I try it on next?’

You can involve your older child in making her own costumes. Try a pirate patch made out of a piece of black cardboard and some elastic, or a pair of wings made from an old pair of stockings stretched over some bent coat hangers.