World Book Day is fast approaching (5th March) and it is just one of a number of ‘Dresing Up Days’ that primary schools have throughout the year, whether for charity, a history trip or another themed activity.
As a mum, I know the heaviness of heart that comes with “mum… I need a pirate/ Victorian/ striped/ times table related/ rainforest/ book themed costume this Friday”. If you’re really fortunate, your child might actually give you some notice, rather than springing this on you the day before!
As an ex-primary school teacher, I know the value of days like this – to engage children in a topic, work together to raise money and (hopefully) enjoy a slightly different day in school. However, as an Educational Psychologist, I also see the amount of stress and anxiety days like this can cause some children.
What makes dressing up days stressful for some children?
First, they’re different! For children with autism, anxiety or who just really thrive on routine, being out of uniform is stressful. The dressing up days often include an aspect of being off timetable – and possibly with a different menu at lunchtime. Peers and teachers look different and they might be ‘in character’ which is even more confusing. It’s a full-on sensory experience and for some, that’s too much. For many children, their standard is wearing uniform for school and that’s what they can cope with.
For other children, they may not enjoy dressing up. If you take a group of adults, there will be some who love a fancy-dress party and others who would do anything to avoid going. Children are equally entitled to feel like this.
For any child, costumes can be itchy, uncomfortable, hot/cold and often impractical for a usual school day. There is also often recognition in the classroom for the ‘best’ costume (and even a prize) which turns the whole event into a competition rather than an enjoyable experience.
Despite our best efforts, children are often judgemental and quick to comment on the differences between shop bought/homemade outfits and criticise those who have remained in their school uniform.
How can you help?
As a parent, you know your child best. If dressing up is going to make them anxious, upset, miserable or exacerbate other medical conditions, talk to their teacher. We very much hope their teacher will understand that it’s better for your child to be in school in uniform, rather than at home or at school being distressed.
If you think your child could manage the morning and then get back into ‘normal’ school clothes – make a plan with their teacher and send their uniform in with them. Find a solution that works for you – it might be that they wear a hat, or a loose interpretation on the required outfit or their favourite shoes.
As a teacher, try to normalise the fact that some children won’t dress up. Of course, some will just forget! However, it’s better for a child who finds dressing up too stressful to be in school in their uniform experiencing the day that way, rather than being at home or extremely upset. Work with the parents/carers, your SENCO, TAs and/or other staff to see how you can make the day a positive learning experience.
It’s not a competition
As supermarkets fill their shelves with book week costumes and you can order pretty much any outfit from Amazon, do take a step back and accept that dress up days are not a test of your parenting skills/wealth/ability to pull rabbits out of hats.
With so many of these costumes being highly flammable, not sturdy enough to pass on and ending up in landfill, a more sustainable approach to dress up days must be possible. Be resourceful with what you’ve got, spend some time creating the outfit with your child and do what you can manage.
Many parents share pictures of their child dressed up on their social media accounts – before you do, we’d recommend you take a look at these tips on sharenting from Internet Matters. Equally, make sure that if your child is in photos with other children dressed up from their class, these are only shared between the school and parents, not online.
If you think we could help your child or would like more advice for your school, please do, get in touch