What do kids learn through dress up play?

Doctor dress up set

Most kids love dressing up in Mom or Dad’s clothes, wearing costumes, and pretending to be a doctor, parent, or astronaut. You can give your child a costume and they will be occupied for hours. Playing dress up is not only fun, it also is a learning tool for children. Today’s topic will talk about what kids can learn from dressing up in costumes, and how parents and guardians can encourage it.

Construction worker dress up set

Learning empathy

There is a lot of debate whether we are born with empathy or if it is learned. What we do know, is that empathy is at least partially learned by how parents react to their infants when they cry, or are hungry, or tired. This learning doesn’t stop then and can continue throughout life.

For kids, pretending to be a pilot, firefighter, or construction worker, allows them to step into someone else’s shoes. They learn what it is like to fly a plane, put out fires, and fix things for people.

Acting out everyday life from different perspectives

It is hard for most people to understand what it is like in other peoples’ shoes. For a child it can be especially difficult. By playing parent, a child can act out making your baby go to sleep, sending baby to timeout, and trying to make baby feel better when sad. When playing like this, it can help your child learn why mom or dad acts like they do and can cope better.

The same works when playing doctor or dentist. Your child may be afraid of the dentist or getting shots. By letting them explain as the doctor or dentist why taking care of teeth or getting shots is important, it lets them act out their fears and can be less afraid.

Police officer dress up set

Learning to make decisions

As your child plays, they will encounter situations where decisions must be made. Maybe there is only one princess dress and two kids who want to be princess. How will they negotiate that? Maybe they will take turns playing, or one of the children will decide to be a doctor instead.

They may also run into decision making as their character. If they are playing police officer, who committed a crime and what was it? How will the culprit be found and what will happen? These situations seem like it would be easy to make decisions, but toddlers are starting to fight for independence and by making play decisions, it allows them to gain a little independence.


Since kids who play dress up encounter situations that they aren’t normally in, it is a good opportunity to learn new vocabulary words. They can learn new words from parents or playmates. Since dress up is a form of storytelling, it is a great opportunity for kids to use words that they’ve heard before in their stories. Soon they will start being used in day-to-day life.

Benefits of dress up for Parents

Parents can also benefit from playing dress up with children. Dress up is a great way for kids to express and process what is happening in their day to day lives. This is a great way for parents to get a window into their child’s lives. By playing dress up, kids act out how they perceive the world around them.

Parents can also get a gauge on a child’s development. How is their vocabulary or cognition? How do they handle frustrating situations?

Wooden Kitchenette

Encouraging dress up

It is easy to encourage your kids to play dress up by having dress up clothes, costumes, and accessories available. Buying costumes is a great way to encourage dress up, but not totally necessary. You can give your child old shoes, towels, aprons, old bags or briefcases. Towels are perfect for capes or blankets for baby dolls. By keeping situational toys like the Little Builder Tool Belt or the Wooden Kitchenette, playing construction worker or chef is a lot easier.

You can also suggest dress up when you are playing with your child. Offer to be the child or the patient.

Playing Dress up helps your child learn

All play is a learning opportunity. Dress up is great because it is very fun for children and also teaches them many cognitive and emotional skills. You can start by playing dress up with your child today.


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