Using Costumes to Learn to Dress

Halloween CostumeCostumes! Want to keep the fun in Halloween for your anxious child? Begin building skills now. This next week, one dramatic play center in many preschool classrooms will serve as a place to practice dressing up.” We teach the self-help skill of “getting ready” and encourage communicating, “I need help.

For some preschoolers, the target is tolerating a single piece of costume. For others, several pieces.Let the child give you an idea where to begin and then slowly increase expectations as kids tolerate more. Whatever they choose, let them play an important role as they learn that their opinion or choice counts. For some, the costume might be character pajamas and fun shoes. One Halloween, my own daughter chose Rudolph (brown clothes and a red nose), and a dear friend tells a funny story how her son chose to be a FedEx plane. Now I look back and laugh— it doesn’t matter.

Our OTs have provided lots of ideas. One of the best is to let children wear the costume and get used to it piece-by-piece’s before the big day. We often begin with keeping a costume part on for only SECONDS before it comes off. The child is then rewarded for being calm AND wearing the costume or mask. Be prepared to modify, since the costume may itch, not fit properly, or prevent natural movement.

Encourage them to get dressed all by myself. If they sign or use words, look for that “rumbling” that signals frustration. Then model, I need help. This is hard.Providing words, in the context when they are truly needed, is very powerful. Don’t let a sudden escalation before the fun begins destroy a special, happy memory. Read the child’s signals early, and build on this teachable moment.