Who knew dressing was so complicated? While the idea of putting on and taking off individual articles of clothing seems easy, I can assure you, for a toddler, it is absolutely not!
Aside from the coordination needed to physically get clothes on the body, concepts like front, back, left, and right can be difficult for children to understand. Then, after kids finally get all of their clothes on, tricky fasteners like buttons, zippers, snaps and shoelaces not only require dexterity, but so much time, patience and practice to learn!
As a pediatric occupational therapist with almost 20 years of experience, I offer assistance to children and parents daily, sharing ways to improve their child’s independence with self-care skills for dressing.
Not only does a child’s independence in dressing help children and parents get out of the house faster and happier in the mornings, dressing and undressing is such a critical piece of achieving success in other self-care skills like toilet training, too!
During the first 0-3 years of life, there are so many exciting changes, as babies develop motor skills and coordination to explore their world. At the same time, they learn how to solve complicated problems and follow directions.
With higher level cognitive thinking, parents will absolutely begin to hear children assert their independence, especially related to dressing themselves. Everything they hear is, “I do it myself!”
My Secret Tips for How to Teach Kids to Dress Themselves
Begin the lessons by encouraging your child to take off clothes; it is much easier than putting clothes on
Start with removing small articles first, even if it is a hat or socks
With success, provide praise immediately with high fives, happy dances, cheers and songs!
Begin with loose fitting clothing, then work towards stiffer fabrics, like jeans
It is unrealistic to think a child might put on all their clothes by themselves on the first try, so focus on mastering one article of clothing at a time
Make practice short and sweet. Set a timer for 1-2 minutes. When time’s up, help them finish dressing and move on to something else
Bring patience and do not be in a hurry. Rushing difficult tasks will lead to a lot of frustration
Let your child sit! Avoid standing. Sitting on the floor requires far less balance and offers more security and stability
Use every day routines as teaching opportunities. Undressing is much more motivating with the promise of playtime in a warm, bubble bath!
While we welcome the chance to change articles of clothes as practice, it can also be fun to learn through play, by ‘rehearsing’ with something other than their own clothing. Removing a doll’s apparel and putting it back on is one great way to learn the routine.
And Now, For Those Pesky Fasteners
Learning to tie laces and manipulate buttons and zippers can be a real challenge. Teaching children these skills on a toy, with something they can see and explore, right on the table in front of them, is a great way to offer exposure to fasteners.
Baby’s First has “dressing dolls” that I think make great sense for many reasons. Buttons and ties, zips and closures, cover the Zip-ity Princess and Zip-ity Pirate, soft, huggable dolls you can use to teach valuable lessons of “practice makes perfect”. Not only do they offer a fun way to introduce creative play into teaching, they are machine washable, allowing you to take them from the dinner table to the outside world as you look for great chances to practice, practice, practice in a stress-free way.
Learning to dress and manipulate fasteners are very complicated activities many take for granted. There are so many steps to learn in order to complete just one new skill! Understand what your children are truly capable of doing and monitor those changes carefully as they grow, always being prepared to help them to the next step as they are ready to advance.
Be patient. Be kind.
Learning all of these new skills in their entirety can take years of practice and repetition. But most of all, be supportive in practice and encouragement, soon your child will be dressing, zipping, buttoning, snapping and tying in order to help you get out of the house in record time!
Keri Wilmot is a full-time pediatric occupational therapist with nearly two decades of clinical experience, working with infants, young children and their families. To further her work, she developed a talent for discovering developmental toys that might promote a child’s skills in natural and playful ways, and has shared those insights with parents and caregivers through her