Dress up and your toddler

As Baby gets older, they will start to be able to learn a lot of interpersonal lessons, and exercise their imagination, by playing dress up and other forms of pretend play. Dress up teaches toddlers about figurative thinking, and using one object to represent another, gives them a chance to try out different personalities, and can even help them develop their empathy and storytelling skills. It’s also a great way for toddlers to learn about what’s appropriate toddler behavior, and how they fit into the world. 

If Baby has started expressing interest in dress up play, then you’ve definitely got some fun times ahead of you. You might also have some questions about the best way to encourage this kind of play with Baby.

Should there be rules for dress up play?

While Baby is this young, it might help for you to just start thinking about how you want to encourage Baby to play while simultaneously respecting household rules. It’s up to you what kind of rules you want to enforce, but as an example, maybe certain types of play, like running or throwing, are only allowed outside, and other behaviors like using kitchen utensils are only allowed while a parent is supervising (this is where babyproofing comes in extra handy). You always want to be make sure that costumes and toys don’t pose a choking hazard for a young child, as well.

How can I make dress up time beneficial for Baby?

While Baby is this age, you probably won’t see them engaging in very detailed pretend play. But for now, you can use dress up and pretend play to encourage Baby to learn, to think creatively, and to exercise certain skills. It might seem too easy, but when it comes to dress-up and other kinds of pretend play, giving Baby lots of undirected free-play time to explore is the best way to encourage them to make the most of their dress-up adventures. Let Baby loose in the costume box and see what they come up with!

  • Imagination: Baby can probably turn just about anything into a hat or a costume, or you can buy kid-sized dress up accessories that encourage imaginative play, like butterfly wings, headbands with animal ears, or toy crowns. It might also be fun to encourage Baby to pretend to be a character in a book or movie that they know.
  • Empathy: Empathy is the act of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Dress up play is a great way to encourage Baby to get in the practice of seeing things from someone else’s perspective.
  • Verbal skills: Pretend play is a great opportunity to strengthen Baby‘s verbal skills and teach new vocabulary. Try to make it a habit of talking to Baby about what they are doing, asking questions, and saying new words and having Baby repeat them back. 

Try taking center stage!

Maybe Baby is begging you to put on a cowboy hat, or maybe you have some acting muscles that you’ve been dying to exercise. Either way, in addition to Baby‘s free-play time, you should definitely try donning a costume and playing dress up for or with Baby every so often. It will entertain Baby to no end, and show them different ways to pretend play. Who knows? One day in the future, when Baby is a famous movie producer, the acting skills you develop now might even land you a starring role.

  • Sandra Waite-Stupiansky. “Is Dressing Up for Halloween Different than for Pretend Play?” NAEYC. National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2016. Web.
  • “Toddler Development.” MedlinePlus. US National Library of Medicine, HHS, NIH, Mar 2017. Web.
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