Kids have been enjoying dress up and costume play (cosplay) for generations but Halloween pretend play is certainly special. Everyone else plays too!
While cosplay generally means putting on the costume as well as the words and actions of a specific character, kids add their own interpretations. A costume, or any dress-up play, invites explorations. Kids are exploring different ways of behaving and interacting.
If we look at the word from a child’s perspective, they see many different people from the outside. They can only guess what that feels like on the inside. So kids try-on the character of the boss, the bad guy, the rescuer, the leader, the worker, the store clerk, the superhero, the sports player, and others each time they try on a costume. Many times, they don’t even need the costumes. They can do all this with imagination.
Although pretend and imaginative play doesn’t need props, dressing up is a sort of permission. Kids know they are people, not cats or dogs, but ears and a tail mean they can try and eat off a dish on the floor. Normally, kids know if they ask adults if they can do this we’d say no, but they explain they are pretending to be a kitty or puppy and what happens? There’s a good chance we say yes. Would we let kids growl at us and order us around? Not usually, but if they are a lion or a pirate, we play along. No doubt about it, imaginative play is pretty powerful.
Pretend play starts about the age of two and becomes increasingly more complex. It’s a vital part of children’s development, creating new brain connections and understandings. On a mental level, problem-solving, creativity, organizing, comparing, and other thinking skills are involved. There’s an emotional aspect, too. Have you heard the expression about not judging others until we have walked a mile in their shoes? When kids dress-up they are trying to do just that. This is part of empathy, of feeling how others might feel. Physically, brains and bodies are so linked that imagining an action creates a response in the body.
Halloween pretend play will happen long before and long after Halloween. And not just for kids. Will you dress up too?