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Can a Doll Encourage a Child to Dress Independently?

Dr. Susan Bartell

Teaching a child to become independent is one of the most important tasks of parenting because, eventually, you want to raise an independent, self-motivated and hard-working adult. When children aren’t taught how to do things for themselves, they may growup feeling unable to make independent choices, or could become insecure and self-doubting.

Often, parents have mixed feelings—conscious or unconscious--about teaching skills of independence because they worry that their child won’t need mom or dad quite as much if they can manage things for themselves.

In fact, it is quite the opposite!

If you don’t have to spend time and effort on dressing, brushing teeth, eating and other tasks of daily life, you will have far more time to focus on really bonding with your child in conversation, playing games and other meaningful activities.

Encouraging skills that support independence can and should begin a little at a time with small steps, beginning as soon as a child is capable of learning the simple independent living skills such as getting dressed.

Dressing is a good place to start because from making clothing choices to actually getting dressed, it can be a long process each morning. When a child is able to start taking responsibility for even a small part of this routine, it is of great benefit to the child and to the parent.

While it can be time consuming and frustrating to teach and reinforce each step necessary to learning—sleeves, buttons, zippers, laces—the investment now will be well worth it later when your child feels empowered and competent.

There is a lot of terrific information on the technical aspects of teaching a child to dress. I am going to teach you how to set up a positive environment for motivating your child to want to take on the challenge of learning to dress independently. This is an important skill to teach, because many other aspects of independent development rely on learning to dress and undress—like toilet training.

How to Set A Positive Environment for Motivating Your Child to Want to Take on the Challenge of Learning to Dress Independently:

1. Be patient, and give your child space.

Success hinges on a parent having patience, and making sure to leave enough time for a child to take their time and practice. Learning how to tie shoelaces is an excellent example of this. It takes a new learner many minutes to tie one shoelace.

When rushed or pressured, they are far less likely to be successful, and yelling “hurry up, we have to go” will cause a child to avoid trying in the future—and then never learn the skill. It is a good rule of thumb to encourage practicing dressing skills only when there is no pressure to get somewhere fast, because this will ensure that neither child nor parent will feel stress.

2. Use dolls designed to teach kids how to button, snap, and tie.

An excellent way to give your child the chance to practice dressing skills in a relaxed environment is to introduce Baby’s First unique dolls.

Not only are they huggable, but they can help a child learn to button, zip and tie a knot or bow. They can also go right into the washing machine and come out fresh and clean, so your child can take them anywhere and you don’t have to be concerned.

3. Don't fear creative dressing.

As children become interested in dressing themselves, don’t be surprised if they assert their independence by wanting to dress creatively, which could include a mismatched outfit, or one that is not weather appropriate, or by wanting to wear the same clothes over and over.

You might have the urge to shut down this type of creativity, but please resist because all kinds of independence are important to emotional growth. In addition to supporting creativity, it is valuable to recognize that kids, like adults, have a natural preference for styles, colors and fabrics that might differ from your own. For example, you might enjoy wearing wool clothing, but your child may find it itchy.

To reduce the possibility of a battle with your child here are a few constructive rules that will help you:

Rule #1: Do not purchase or leave clothes in your child’s closet that you deem inappropriate.

Rule #2: Keep school, play and party clothes separate from each other and explain that your child can only pick from the correct section for each activity.

Rule #3: An outfit must be washed after being worn once or twice and another outfit must be chosen during the washing.

Rule #4: Instead of fighting about wearing weather appropriate clothing, extra clothes (a sweater or jacket for cold days or shorts and a t-shirt for warm days) must be taken to school ‘just in case’.

Rule #5: As long as clothing covers all the correct parts of your child’s body appropriately, you won’t force styles or colors to match.

Rule #6: Spend a few minutes with your child the night before choosing and laying out clothes for the next day. For many parents this is the best trick for saving time and reducing arguments.

As your child learns each step towards dressing independently you will be able to celebrate each stage together, and feel good that you are preparing your child for a life of confidence and accomplishment.

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally recognized child and parenting psychologist, consultant, speaker and author. For over twenty-five years she has been guiding parents to raise happy, healthy and well-adjusted children by helping them to understand the developmental needs of their child at every age and by providing strategies to help parents and children through challenging times at every stage of childhood.

To reach Dr. Susan Bartell: (516)944-5856 |

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