A few weeks ago, I was standing in line at the grocery store, juggling a basket full of food and sundries, and keeping an eye on my 4-year-old daughter, who happened to be dressed in a cowgirl costume—complete with red boots and matching hat. A woman standing in front of me turned around and, without really even addressing me or my daughter directly, snidely remarked, “Halloween was over two months ago.”
She was right. It was not Halloween, nor were we headed to a costume event of any kind. My daughter loves playing dress-up. Her choices run the imagination gamut from superheroes and princesses to basically any animal. I encourage creative play and, occasionally, I find reasonably priced accessories to add to the “costume trunk.” What can I say, I dressed up as a pioneer, nurse, or “movie star”—feather boa, jauntily tilted hat, gaudy jewelry and elbow-length gloves—pretty consistently when I was five or six. Heck, I still love costumes!
“Oh, hey, guys . . . I’m just being ridiculously cute over here!”
I’ve learned I’m far from alone in having a kid who wants to play dress-up every day. Conversely, some of my friends have had issues with wanting their toddler to don a fuzzy duck costume they bought for Halloween, only to have the child refuse. Kids have preferences. It’s our job to keep them within reason. With that in mind, here are a few tips I’ve picked up for dealing with a young lady (or young man!) who only wants to wear costumes:
Keep in mind this is likely just a phase. Kids go through all sorts of curious phases, as we all know—we did, our kids will, their kids will. Having strong opinions about what they put on shows exactly that—your child has strong opinions. Child psychologists say the “costume phase” is generally between 3-6 years old.
Imaginative play stimulates creativity. With that being said, make sure your tyke knows the difference between real and make-believe. If she dresses up as Cinderella every day and only wants to be referred to as “Cinderella,” make sure your kid knows where fantasy ends and real life begins.
Compromise with an accessory. Heading somewhere that a head-to-toe pirate or shark-lion costume would be wildly inappropriate? Consider a hat or tiara, costume-themed shoes, a cape, or even a tail to keep a fun mentality, while stressing that there are appropriate times for certain ways of dress, for both children and adults.
Prepare them for the reality of school. At least where I attended school, and presumably where my daughter will, showing up as a Superman isn’t necessarily permitted. Explain that playtime and learning time are both important, but don’t always overlap. After-school superheroes are always welcome.
You’re in good company. Other than the unpleasant lady in the grocery line, usually I receive an overwhelmingly positive response from other parents. Knowing looks and comments on “my little princess/cat/genie,” from like-minded moms and dads, are frequent.
Listen to them. Ask why they prefer the costume to “real clothes” and give them the respect of actually listening to their answer. Someday your child will grow out of their “dress-up” phase, leaving you with great memories of your little cutie in a tiger costume. And possibly a surly teenager who denies they were ever into Blues Clues. Just another phase, folks!