Playing Dress Up: Helping Children Develop Sincerity

by Dr. Virginia Smith

One of my favorite things to do with my grandkids is to play dress up. In the closet upstairs we keep a variety of costumes and prop pieces – some of which include a pirate sword, a few princess dresses, a jester outfit, and various and sundry hats, scarves, gloves, shirts, and pants. All of the kids enjoy rummaging through the stash and selecting the articles that will denote who they will be that day.

When they put on the costume, something magical happens. They immediately begin to talk and act differently. They might jaunt about like a swashbuckling pirate or act regally like royalty. One thing is for sure – what they appear to be on the outside is much different than the little boy or girl they are when not wearing the costume.

Healthy Relationships

Talking about pretend play is a great way to introduce the concept of sincerity. Sincerity is a very important quality to develop because it is the foundation of healthy relationships. Without sincerity it is difficult to impossible to trust each other because what you see is not always what you get. In fact, “Trust vs. Mistrust” is the very first stage in Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Children who never learn to trust cannot fully develop, later in life, into well-adjusted, self-actualized adults.

It Isn’t Easy
Sincerity might initially appear easy for children because when they are in full meltdown mode it is easy to tell that they are genuinely upset, and when their faces light up with delight you can see that they are happy to the very core of their being. However, there is a difference in being able to read the emotions of your child and knowing that they are being sincere in their behavior and communication.

For example, when asked to apologize, children will oftentimes reluctantly verbalize “I’m sorry” while inwardly rolling their eyes or clenching their teeth. Expressing genuine regret when you’ve done something offensive or hurtful to someone is an important step in not only gaining forgiveness but also growing as a person. If your child is struggling with being sincere when offering an apology, a good thing to do is to pull them aside where you can talk in private. Ask them to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and then begin to gently probe how the other person might be feeling. If your child can empathize with the person who has been hurt, they are much more likely to sincerely apologize – adding meaning to the words “I’m sorry” and potentially repairing the damage that was done and strengthening the relationship.

Removing the Costume

But how does all of this tie back to the statement that talking about pretend play is a great way to introduce sincerity? When talking with your child about sincerity – which can be a rather difficult abstract concept – compare it to when they dress up like a pirate or a princess. They may act, or talk, one way on the outside when dressed up; but on the inside they are very different. When they are sincere, it is like they have removed the costume and appear exactly the way they really are. People can more easily relate to them and trust their actions and words.

Playing dress up is a great activity and children and adults enjoy acting like someone they are not. The activity also gives you a great opportunity to explore the concept of sincerity, meaning what you say, and being who you really are.


Dr. Virginia Smith is a speaker, author, and life-long educator. A Kamm Distinguished Fellow in Academics, Research, and Leadership, she holds degrees in family services, business, and education with areas of concentration in curriculum design and development.

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