How to Teach Your Child Independent Dressing
As the weather turns cooler, not many parents get excited about bundling everyone up to go outside! One way our family has made getting out the door a little smoother is by teaching independent dressing to our children. At first, it might feel like this slows everyone down, but over time, the benefits definitely pay off. Not only is this an important life skill, but also helps develop coordination & proprioception (awareness of where our limbs are in space), plus fosters self-confidence and decision making. Here are some of our favorite ways we have taught our kids independent dressing.
People might think their toddler is too young to dress themselves, but kids are capable of amazing things and will often surprise you. Even at the infant stage, we can start cultivating independent dressing by pulling a shirt over their head. With a little positioning help from us, babies are often able to get their arm through the sleeve. Babies listen and absorb everything, so narrating each step will help them understand what’s going on and connect language to actions. This may sound like, “Now the shirt is coming over your head, there you are! Next, let’s stick your arm through this hole, and then this arm. Hooray, now your shirt is on!”
Allow Them Space to Try
As babies grow into toddlers, continue to assist as little as necessary with clothes. We can guide one of their feet through a pant leg and let them do the other side, or help pull a shirt over their head and allow them to put both arms through independently. As they develop fine motor control, introduce more complex tasks like zippers. To start, try connecting it at the bottom, and allow the child to pull it up alone. Just remember, it’s normal for kids to get frustrated, and that is okay! Offer a little extra guidance where needed, while still allowing your child to complete as much as they are capable of on their own.
Opt for Kid-Friendly Clothing
To set up our young children for success, we thoughtfully choose garments and shoes that are easy to put on themselves. Flexible slip-on shoes, rain boots with handles, or stretchy pull-on pants are much easier than stiff jeans with buttons or shoes with laces. Our preschooler loved learning the “jacket flip” technique as a toddler, where you lay a jacket face up on the ground in front of your child with the hood near their feet. Next, have them bend down, stick their arms in the sleeves, then lift up and flip the jacket over their head!
Now that we have a new baby in the house, I am so thankful that my 4-year-old eagerly picks out and puts on clothes mostly unassisted! Encouraging independent dressing involves a lot of patience, and it often feels much faster to just do it for them. However, once your child is finally able to put on an article of clothing completely alone, the proud look of confidence and happiness on their face is worth every minute. Good luck!
Kyrsten, Nature program leader, photographer, and Mama to a 4-year-old and new baby