While most kids don’t get themselves dressed independently until they’re about five years old, they begin mastering basic dressing skills much earlier than that. In fact, by the time they’re about two and a half, they may be able to unbutton buttons, put on jackets and even help with zipping. Dressing is a crucial part of motor skills development and can help them establish independence as they grow and get ready for school, playdates and more.
When to Start Teaching Toddlers How to Get Dressed
But when is the right time to start encouraging your little one to start putting those cute toddler girl clothes on all by herself? The experts say that babies begin to start showing interest in dressing and undressing around age one, when they start removing socks and can help push arms through shirt openings. The reality is that it’s never too early to encourage kids to help with dressing. The earlier, the better!
At the same time, it’s crucial to remember that all kids develop at different rates and may show varying levels of interest in the task. Be patient with your little one and remember that they’ll be getting dressed all by themselves in no time at all! Following the tips below will help ensure that they stay on the right track and master the skill sooner rather than later.
Tips for Toddler Self-Dressing
- Start with Simple Tasks — Depending on your child’s age, certain dressing tasks will be easier than others. Start with simple things like buttoning and unbuttoning large buttons and putting on sweaters and jackets. It’s also a good idea to break down the whole process into a series of small steps. Rather than presenting it as one big task, present it as a bunch of small ones. This makes it a lot more manageable for kids and prevents them from getting overwhelmed. At age one and a half or two, let your child try the following:
- Give them a shirt with large buttons and have them practice buttoning and unbuttoning with the shirt not on their body.
- Let them experiment with putting on and taking off socks.
- Give them a toy with large buttons, zippers and Velcro so they can practice in a play-like environment.
- Start with undressing tasks, as this is usually easier for younger kids to grasp. Encourage them to undress themselves when appropriate.
- Provide them with dolls and doll clothes so they can understand the skill of dressing and undressing while they play.
- Let Them Choose Their Clothes — We all love putting together cute toddler boy outfits, but try your hardest not to take over the styling sessions every morning. If your children know they have a say in what they wear, they’ll be much more excited about the prospect of getting dressed on their own. If that means a few outings in a Superman cape or fairy dress, so be it! Remember that dressing is also a form of self-expression and autonomy, and this is a good time to allow them to begin exploring that.
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- Focus on Order of Dressing — Little kids often don’t yet understand the importance of order, but this is key when getting dressed. If you’ve got a pair of cute toddler girl shoes that she loves, she may not understand that she needs to put those on last before heading out the door. Don’t only focus on the motor skill aspect, but also the bigger picture of when to add what.
- Lean Into Their Mimicry — If you’ve got a toddler, you know by now that they are little mimics who will happily copy everything you do. This has its downsides, of course, but it’s quite beneficial when learning basic life skills. In fact, studies show that kids learn by copying what grown-ups and others do. Here are some ways to use this mimicry to your advantage when getting your little one dressed.
- If you’re comfortable with it, allow your toddler to watch you get dressed and explain the process as you go.
- Choose clothing that looks and feels like the people they mimic. For example, your little one might want to dress like his big brother. Buy him the same or similar clothes so he actually wants to get dressed.
- Watch dressing videos online that help kids visualize the process with characters they trust and love. Just make sure to monitor what they’re watching — Sesame Street is always good!
- Choose Simple Attire — You don’t want to set your child up for a life of Velcro shoes forever, but as they’re developing, it can be extremely helpful to have them start with less complex closures and simpler clothing items. Some great options include Velcro shoes, slip-on shoes and pullover sweaters. Avoid challenging closures, such as shoelaces or zippers, during the teaching process.
- Make It Fun — Like any seemingly mundane task in life, your child will learn to enjoy it and won’t dread the learning process so much if they think it’s fun. Including incentives, songs and games in the process can help make it exciting for everyone. Try your best not to get frustrated when things aren’t going well, as this will only cause your child to associate it with stress and negativity.
- Let Them Experience the Process Themselves — As tempting as it may be to dive in and help speed up the process, be sure to be as patient with your child as possible. Let them try, fail and explore as they try different dressing tasks. It’s a good idea to experiment with getting dressed on days when you don’t have to be anywhere at any particular time so you don’t wind up getting frustrated and rushing your little one through the routine.
Getting dressed is an important part of developing independence in toddlers and young kids. Following these tips will help you set your little one off on the right foot so they grow into happy, self-sufficient grown-ups! Hopefully, it’ll do it without the temper tantrums.