importance of pretend play

The Importance of Dress up and Pretend Play


Dress up time in our house means everything from my three year old son’s painted nails (and fingers!) to former ballet performance ourfits. When it comes down to it, pretend play is an important part of development. I know that there are those who believe fully in pretend play being “non-leading” but now living in India I see the lack of imaginative play. The idea of dress up without a “purpose” is just not heard of.


Why pretend play?

Pretend play helps children gain important skills. While role playing can do many of these things but it isn’t ad hoc and it isn’t led by an adult helping a child solve a problem with their friends.  Pretend play helps young children gain many skills, including:

  • social skills (NIH article on pretend play and social competence in children)
  • emotional/empathy (There are TONS of articles on play therapy and the development of empathy. Here is just one).
  • problem solving (Miami University article on problem solving and pretend play)
  • literacy/vocabulary (Journal of Play article)

Imaginative Play: The importance of Pretend Play and Dress Up

To bridge the gap there’s a new trend in dress up clothes in India. When we visited before we never noticed them in the stores but now I’m starting to see them. As there isn’t really a Halloween here (except maybe expats/migrants and some college student parties) For once I see things like disney princess costumes being available and perhaps they will be useful as a mode to pretend play. There may be commercialism involved, but  the fact is children love to mimic and dress up allows children to pretend to be in situations or recreate situations they have been in. Multiple times I’ve found my daughter “pretending” to be with a friend and doing what they had already done – but often the outcome is different. This may be my daughter working through and doing what she wishes they had done or perhaps reliving and remembering what happened before.

Kids learn so much when they have are able to play

My three year old loves dress up. Here he is in his sister’s dress, nail polish and fun. He also likes to be a pirate :)

I’ve read the book “The Case for Make believe ” and the fact is this is so much more in India. Kids may have tutoring lessons from 10-11 am, lunch, school from 1 pm – 6:30 pm. Home by 7. Play for an hour (if they don’t have a lesson of sorts, badminton or swimming for example) and then dinner at 9, bed by 10:30). Commercialism or not – pretend play and the ability to play just to play needs to be there for kids. They need that outlet to develop social and emotional skills. There needs to be no expectations and no “winners and losers.” Just dress up, serve some tea to your princess and princes and have fun.

Sometimes though, as Crystal at Happy-Mothering Found… kiddos have most fun with just the box :)

A few links for you on the importance of play:

  1. AAP
  3. Atlantic article from 1987 archives
  4. National Institute for Play


So, don’t be afraid if all your kid wants to do is play. They are learning. I know for me I need to sometimes let go and just NOT focus on. Not everything has an end goal. But, even with pretend play, your kiddo is “getting something” out of it.

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  1. My daughter loves to play dress up! She’ll even dress up the dog.. she likes to put a red blanket over him and call him Red Riding Hood Dog. :)

  2. Pretending was such an integral part of my growing up–and all the other childrens as well. My friends little girl loved to dress up my 2 dogs-one time as a bride and groom because she said if they lived together they had to get married–luckily at that time I had 2 very nice dogs who would cooperate with her!!

  3. I did a lot of pretend play as a kid, and so do my kids! I love seeing what their imaginations can create! And i think it helps them a lot as they grow older and they have to be creative with projects.

  4. Little madam loves to play dress up although now she is doing it less and less..little man only ever likes dressing up as a cowboy lol.

  5. I am a huge proponent of play time too. My son has a box for his costumes, and he uses them all of the time. It’s one of his favorite ways to pretend.

  6. Pretend play is so important for kids. It helps them relieve stress and exercise their imagination. It’s hard to do that with all structured activities for sure. Cute photo of your son too!

  7. Very interesting write up about your thoughts on pretend play. I do not have kids so I guess I never realized how important it is to a child’s development. Your experiencing at least two different cultures also gives a good insight on what you will want to use in the raising of your children. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  8. Pretend play is great for their imagination! I spent a lot of time indoors during my childhood due to illness and did a lot of pretend play with my dolls.

  9. I remember as a kid the wildly imaginative games my cousins and I would play, even without benefit of toys or costumes! Pretending is such a treasured gift of childhood, I love to encourage it in my son.

  10. We love to have our kids pretend play and dress up at home and just listen in. We learn much more about how they are feeling and what new things they are retaining from hearing them play and pretend.


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