Dress-up games: why they’re good for children
From around the age of 3 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 their imagination. For example, your child might choose to be a pirate stomping around and scaring people, or a doctor giving their 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 child 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
- Let your child take the lead with play. Avoid telling your child what they should be or wear. Creating an outfit and a character is part of the fun for your child. For example, your child might use their imagination to create a superhero outfit from a towel and swimmers.
- Get into the moment with your child by asking them if you can play too. Follow their lead. If your child 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 they can see themselves dressed up as another character. Your child might enjoy doing different poses or pulling faces. For example, they could be a scary monster or a silly clown.
- Sometimes your child might want to dress up and play imaginary games alone or with their toys. You might hear your child talking to themselves in different voices as they play. It’s OK if your child doesn’t want you to join in – you can just ask them another time.
Adapting dress-ups for children of different ages
Younger children might just enjoy putting on and taking off different things. For example, they 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 older children in making their 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.
All children learn and develop through play. Our articles on play and autistic children and play and children with disability are great starting points for adapting this activity guide for children with diverse abilities. You might also like to explore our activity guides for children with diverse abilities.