Two young boys and a man all wear red fire fighter costumes. They're all holding a garden hose and there's water spraying out one end.

Dressing up as other people is good for your child!

So, your child says they want to be a superhero, an astronaut, a schoolteacher, a fire-fighter, a pirate, or an evil tyrant when they grow up? Well, some say you’ve got to “fake it until you make it!” Trying on different personas and personalities is something we never stop doing even as adults. And one great way to help kids do this is to give them something unusual to wear.

In fact, one of the best toys you can give a child is a costume of their favorite character. Whether your child loves dressing as a Disney princess, a Marvel Superhero, a Star Wars alien or just trying on Mommy’s or Daddy’s shoes, playing dress up is a crucial way to help their brains develop.

Playing dress up is a form of imaginative play and a common play pattern for children of all ages. And what seems like pure frivolous fun also provides the child with key social and emotional learning. Dressing up as other people is so important for young children that it’s a key need for their healthy development. Simply put, it’s role-playing enhanced by props your child can wear and inhabit psychologically.

A child dressed up as an astronaut with paper stars, a moon and a planet hanging on the wall behind them.
Children in superhero costumes

Scientific studies have demonstrated the following cognitive benefits:

  • Enhanced language acquisition and usage, including the use of subjunctives, tenses, similes and adjectives.
  • Facilitates the expression of feelings, positive or negative.
  • Reduced aggression, enhanced co-operation, and empathy.
  • Learning the benefits of gratification delay.
  • Better problem solving. Asking… How would this character approach this problem is a skill even adults could benefit from.
  • Increased cognitive flexibility, and enhanced creativity.
  • Develops Fine motor skills by putting on dress-up clothes.
  • Allows the exploration of different gender identities. A child should never be ridiculed for pretending to be a different gender. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to identify as another gender, they’re just finding out what it’s like.
  • Can help shy kids come out of their shells.
A small boy and a dog running on grass. Both are wearing cardboard panels on their backs like spaceship wings.
A small child wearing a blue children's stethoscope, holds their hand to an adults forehead.

Dress up is so much more than a way of playing.

By pretending to be other characters, kids can experiment with new behaviors and concepts. They can try something out and then decide what they like and what they don’t like and appropriate to themselves whatever they like.

A woman wearing a pirate hat and a stripy top, applies face paint to a smiling child. The child is also wearing a pirate hat and striped top.
Two smiling children dressed as pirates on a wooden raft floating on a river.

Similar things can happen in the digital world also. When kids identify with digital avatars it can open their minds up to different ways of thinking about themselves.

The best part about dress up play is that there is no right or wrong, just fun… (and lots and lots of learning!)