The Importance of Dress-Up and Imaginative Play Right Now

cutie in tutu with big bow and fairy wand

This week we chatted with Dr. Mary Goodarzi, clinical psychologist specializing in children and families, about the importance of dress-up and imaginative play for children during this tumultuous time, as well as what we as parents should focus on right now. While stay at home orders are slowly being lifted across the country, schools are still closed and extracurricular activities still canceled which means children's time is still mostly spent at home. Read on for Dr. Goodarzi's take on the topic.

Q. How can imaginative play such as playing dress up benefit children?

A. When children use their imaginations, they are working every piece of academic and emotional muscle- they are actually learning through their process of play and investing in the entire role will allow them to continue exploring which builds their confidence, imagination, and yes, even cognitive abilities.  Creative thinking grows with use and practice and allows children to solve complex problems, build critical thinking skills, and encourages socialization, cooperation; especially when role-playing with other children.  

Q. How should we encourage dress-up play? 

A. As a parent or caregiver, make sure you have plenty of supplies available that a child can run their imagination with!  If your child has some difficulty initiating imaginative play, then get them started by asking questions like, “what would you like to be when you grow up? Show me!”, “What would you do if you were (insert their favorite character, superhero, etc)”.  Encourage them to act it out, draw it out, utilizing any or all of the supplies you’ve laid out for them.  The more practice they get with creative play, the more their imagination will grow and soar.  

Q. Especially now! 

A. Yes! During this time where our children are experiencing stay at home orders and our nation’s pandemic, pretend play is even more important.  It allows our children to reflect what they experience and make sense of everything in the world around them through imaginative play with siblings, family members, parents, and even alone with their favorite stuffed animals.  It is not uncommon to see your child trying to process what they may be experiencing around them through their play, so take a back seat and watch your little one’s mind explore!  

Q. Should my child play alone or with others?

A. Allow your child to make the decision of playing with you, their siblings, or alone.  If your child does not have a sibling(s), do not fret- when children play alone, they create their own rules, their own games, and allow their imaginations to lead, which is a very healthy and much needed exploration in play (that will help them succeed as adults!).  If they do have siblings, cousins, family members, and others to play with, then they are working on socialization skills, emotional growth skills and also using their imaginations (that will also help them succeed as adults!)- either way, it is important, valuable, and vital.  It’s important to remember that all of us, even the most social ones, need alone time to help reflect, process, and grow, and our children are no different.  Allow your children to have individual and independent play times to stimulate their learning process and imaginative growth.  

Q. And if we are playing with them?

A. Allow your child to lead the play- child led interactions and play help foster independence, self-growth, confidence, and allows the child to explore their creative and imaginative mind.  If you, the parent or caregiver, are playing with them, allow this time to have them lead and you follow their play- they are the directors!  

Also, allow your child to explore their creativity by setting out many supplies for them to utilize for their play!  Things do not have to get pricey or expensive (you can find most things right at home), but the more they are able to explore with, the more creative they can get! 

Q. What should we as parents focus on during this time?

A. Parents have suddenly become their children’s teachers, trying to homeschool effectively while continuing to maintain their own work and home schedules. There is so much asked of us, and what will help is to release the expectations of what needs to be done and rather focus on what can be done - what will keep my family calm and happy for our day? The mantra we tell ourselves will also become our inner voice and lead our day, just as the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. Do not put too much emphasis and pressure on trying to get it all done, what gets done, is enough. And, that is perfectly fine. Right now, we urge you to build your child’s resilience during this quarantine time and strategies that build their inner strength and confidence, which will help in maintaining the overall peace and mindset of your family.

Do you have questions for Dr. Goodarzi? Email them to us at or comment below for a weekly discussion!


Mary Goodarzi Clinical Psychologist 
Mary Goodarzi, PsyD is a mom and Clinical Psychologist Post-Doctoral Fellow specializing in children and families in Orange County, California. 


1 comment

  • Tannaz Afrouzeh Shirvan

    Dear Dr. Goodarzi,

    What are your suggestions on time spent on school work per day for a 5 year old about to begin kindergarten?

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