Fancy Dress – Why is Dressing Up So Important in a Child’s Development

Where did it all begin?

All kids like to dress up. Many adults do too but that in part is because we never lose that sense of fun in being a different character for the night. Playing out a role, rather like the Masquerade balls of the 15th Century, is something of a tradition in most countries across the world, even in remote parts of Africa where tribesmen dress up as animals or mythical creatures as part of a ceremony.

The painting on the left depicts a fancy dress charity ball, which was held at the Theatre Royal in Manchester in 1828. Painted by Arthur Perigal, it now hangs in the Salford Museum and Art Gallery.

Costume parties in America really took off in the late 19th Century amongst the elite, where no expense was spared in the elaborate costumes, which were mainly based on European Royalty (having no real history of their own to relate to at that time and a lot being of European descent).

This developed further in the 1940s with the advent of fan conventions, where ordinary people would dress up as their comic book heroes. Halloween became another good time for grown-ups to don costumes based on horror fiction, being too old for Trick-or-Treating.

In the UK, we prefer the term Fancy Dress parties. These became popular in the last quarter of the 20th Century, as many Britons saw what was happening in the States and wanted to replicate it. Halloween was never seen as a party event until the 1990’s and only in recent years has the rest of Europe and Australia taken it on board.

Early role play in children

It is not entirely clear when children started to wear fancy dress costumes, but imaginative (or pretend) play has always been a part of a child’s development. From 18 to 24 months, toddlers start to notice what you do and will mimic your actions, like talking on an imaginary telephone. They are pretending to be you!

Very soon, your child will take on more complex roles. These will be people they have seen, probably on the television, but sometimes in real life, like when they go to the doctor’s surgery.

At first, they may be generic roles, like a fireman or a nurse (not always gender-specific, though) and then they may become a particular character, like Bob the Builder or Anna from Frozen. Here (right), Jack is dressed as a pirate but he’s watching Pirates of the Caribbean, so in his mind he is probably Jack Sparrow.

These days, there are lots of fancy dress ideas for kids. Baby Knows Best has a great range covering virtually every generic occupation for girls and boys, from a doctor to a construction worker, policewoman to a nurse. Even pirates, like Jack. Or, you can choose a character fancy dress costume like Superman or Wonder Woman.

So why is Cosplay important?

Dressing up in order to act out roles helps develop lots of skills. First, in taking on that role, your child is thinking how that character would act and speak. If it is a film character, they will be remembering lines from the film. Musicals are great for this, as they will know the words to the songs even if they don’t fully understand the meaning.

When children play together, they have to decide who will play who. Who will be the goody and who will be the baddy? What will the rules of engagement be? With a boy and a girl, it isn’t really important who plays the doctor and who plays the nurse, but you must let them decide. It is their pretend world, not yours and gender is not an issue at this age (see my blog on raising kids in 2020).

Children often pick heroes as their role models, not necessarily superheroes like Spider-man or Wonder-woman, but those everyday heroes who put out fires, make sick people better. They may tell you that’s what they want to be when they grow up. Already they are thinking about what that job entails and it is sparking their imagination further.
So encouraging your child to dress up and play at being their favourite character will help their cognitive skills, vocabulary, creativity, as well as keeping them active.

A little more about Halloween

Halloween is a great time for kids to dress up and go Trick-or-Treating, but what is it all about? Well, Halloween is a shortened version of All Hallows Eve, which means the evening before All Hallows (or Saints) Day in the Christian calendar. However, the origins of Halloween as a night of celebration date back to medieval times with the Festival of Samhain, an ancient Celtic tradition when people would dress up to ward off evil spirits.

Halloween was introduced to America by Scottish immigrants in the early 1900s, and thus began the commercialization of the occasion. It died off somewhat in Britain and Europe, just as the celebration of All Saints Day on the 1st November became just another date on the calendar.

However, as with many things and mainly thanks to Hollywood, what happens in the States one year will happen in the UK the next (or in this case half a century later) and Europe inevitably follows.

Trick-or-Treating also has its origins in Medieval Britain, when the poor would beg for food and in return they would pray for the dead on All Souls Day, which is the 2nd November. Again, this all but died off until it appeared in America in the 1920s when the Scottish tradition of “guising” was introduced. This was when children disguised themselves as something frightening (to reinforce the “Trick” or threat) and went from house to house demanding “Treats”, usually sweets or candy.

The decorating and placing of pumpkins outside the home may seem a very American thing to do, but again, this was brought over by Irish immigrants in the late 19th Century. Back in Ireland, they wouldn’t have used pumpkins though. It would most likely be a turnip or a potato, hollowed out and carved into a face.

A candle was placed inside to provide the light and they called it Jack O’Lantern (as in Jack-of-the-Lantern).

Nowadays, people are quite creative in their carving, turning it into quite an art form.

So, contrary to what many people think, Halloween, trick-or-treating and dressing up is very much a British/Irish tradition that was introduced to America by Scottish immigrants, and then taken on board by the Brits in the late 80s. early 90s.

How to raise your kids in 2020

Top 6 Tips For Parents

Gender Identification

A number of parents have asked, “should I raise my child gender-neutral”?. In a word, no! Gender is a simple thing and parents should not try and complicate matters. Unless born with ambiguous or atypical genitalia, your baby is either a boy or a girl. At some point in the future, your child will become old enough to decide whether they are comfortable in their bodies.

The overriding fact is this: The vast majority of children grow up either male or female and remain that way for the whole of their lives. They may not like their body; some may want to be slimmer, some may want bigger boobs, most men will regret losing their hair, but on the whole, they remain the same sex as when they were born. So why is it now a big deal?
Why are some parents raising their child as “gender-neutral” or even worse, “gender-fluid”?

One answer to this is because of the desire in certain people not to cause offense and not to pre-judge a person based on sex, religion or color. This is all well and good, but as a parent, you have one duty in life, and that is the well-being of your child.

Pink for Girls, Blue for Boys?

Of course, this does not mean you have to follow gender stereotypes. If you want to paint your little girl’s room gray and dress her in blue, that’s fine. If you want her to play with building blocks rather than dolls, that’s ok too, but if she sees her friends playing with Barbie and she wants to do the same, let her. Don’t force your political agenda on a child barely able to speak let alone express a view.

However, there are boundaries that should not be crossed, and that is in clothing. Once they reach the toddler stage, when they become more aware of themselves and their surroundings, it is not a good idea to put your little boy in a dress. This only serves to confuse him and others as they become more inquisitive.

So what is important?

A report published in 2016 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), states, “Having a safe and loving home and spending time with family―playing, singing, reading, and talking―are very important. Proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep also can make a big difference.”

Another report published in Leisure Sciences states “Consistent and continued involvement in family leisure remains important to family cohesion, adaptability, functioning, and satisfaction with family life; however, more emphasis should be placed on creating satisfying family leisure experiences rather than simply high levels of family leisure involvement.”

These are the top six opportunities to share as a family.

  1. Meal time.

This is an opportunity to discuss the day’s events and talk about plans for the coming days ahead. Ban mobile phones and other forms of communication from the table. This is a time for the family to share between themselves, not with others. As soon as your baby is old enough, bring him to the table to eat with you

  • Reading.

Read to your child when they are young and introduce them to suitable authors as they get older. Books are better than electronic devices as they are more tactile.

  • Get involved in community events together.

This gives your child a feeling of belonging to something bigger than the family unit. Why not get sponsored at the same time and raise money for a local charity?

  • Share musical interests.

You might not like your kid’s taste as they grow older so make the most of it when they are young. Introduce them to musical instruments at an early age and the chances are they will learn to play, even if you can’t. Sing together as well – it can be a very uplifting experience for you all, even if you are tone-deaf.

  • Participate in physical activity

You don’t need to join a gym. Go cycling or running together, or just join in with their play activities. They may seem happy playing with their Peek-a Boo teddy bear, but they will enjoy it all the more if you join in. Laughter is something that is best shared.

  • Watch films or TV together.

Young kids love bright colors so cartoons are great for keeping them quiet for half an hour, but as they get older, they will want something more challenging. Discuss the programs you watch, find out what interests them and why.

Changing Family Dynamics

As a society, we need to understand the meaning of family. The concept of mummy and daddy with 2.4 children is a thing of the past. Single parent and same sex families are now very common, as are families of mixed race. However, the same rules apply. Whether you are an extended family that comprises three or four generations or a single Mum struggling to balance a job with raising a child, if you follow those six rules you won’t go far wrong.

Parenting is progressive so there is no one single thing that helps you deal with everyday issues. You start with a baby who grows into a child and then through puberty to adulthood and what works with one phase will not work for the next. However, patience and understanding got me through a lot when my two were growing up. As a child grows they become more inquisitive and you need to take the time to understand what they want to know and then respond in a way they can comprehend.