Teach Your Kids to Get Dressed Alone (No Mommy Required)
Approach these sometimes frustrating lessons with the right attitude and get tips to help your child help himself
Teaching Your Kids to Get Dressed Alone
Who knew before becoming a parent that getting dressed was almost certain to become a challenge? Yet as soon as you’re done eating for two, you find yourself dressing for two. Not only does your daily routine and attire change—both what you choose to wear and the amount of time it takes to get up and dressed in the morning—but you have the added responsibility of making sure your child is dressed appropriately, too.
For parents of infants, this usually means stocking up on onesies, investing in a good stain remover, and getting your laundry under control. But when it comes to dressing toddlers and preschoolers, let’s face it—you’re not the only one with input anymore. Despite being easier and faster to just continue dressing your child, this is the age when you should teach your kids to get dressed alone.
Some children welcome the challenge, while others prefer to remain dependent on their parents. In either case, kids in this age group have their own ways of doing things—or not doing things—as well as their own likes and dislikes. Unfortunately, this developmental milestone is not mastered overnight. The good news is that helping your child to learn to dress independently does not have to be a guaranteed source of conflict if you approach it with the right attitude and come armed with a few helpful hints.
Parents who approach getting dressed as a learning experience tend to encounter less frustration than those who expect their tots to have an inborn sense of style and an innate ability to fasten buttons.
Consider the task of independent dressing to be similar to learning the alphabet. If you are like most parents, you sang the alphabet to your child (many times) long before you expected him to repeat it back to you. And when he did, you found it quite adorable when his “l, m, n, o” came out as one big blur for months until he realized they are actually distinct letters. If you look at putting shoes on the wrong feet or mismatched socks in the same light, you’ll be off to a great start. After all, putting one’s best foot forward in this case means making a good effort—not doing it flawlessly, quickly, and with the right foot always ending up in the right shoe!
Inside, Outside, Upside Down
As children learn to dress themselves, they all seem to go through a predictable period of shirts put on inside out and pants put on backwards. It is much more important to focus your attention on and praise your child’s efforts. Sure, you may want to fix a tag sticking out of a backwards shirt, or mention that a striped shirt with a plaid skirt and sneakers isn’t the best combination, but instead let your child take pride in her accomplishments even if she doesn’t get it quite right. In time she’ll get the hang of it.
Off to a Good Start
There are many things you can do to help your child develop a sense of independence and get the hang of dressing himself (without your help). First of all, establish some basic ground rules. In general, the fewer rules you make, the more reasonable your child will be, and the less likely you are to be met with defiance. Color choices should not be as high on your list as wearing a winter coat when it’s 10 degrees outside. That said, if you decide that wearing the same pair of underwear two days in a row is unacceptable, then make this rule clear to your child.
The next step is to set up your child’s room so that she has easy access to the clothes she can choose from, and then let her do the choosing. For example, put socks and underwear in a lower drawer in the dresser, consider installing a low clothing bar in the closet, or simply put together matching outfits ahead of time. If you don’t want her to wear polka dots and stripes, don’t offer that combination as a possible choice. Then let your burgeoning fashionista exert her independence and make her own choices.
Give It Time
Learning how to dress, undress, fasten buttons, tie laces, open and close zippers, and secure snaps takes time. Expecting a two-year-old to pull off his pants is reasonable, but expecting him to master the art of tying shoelaces before he’s four or five is not realistic.
Once your child is able to accomplish some of these tasks, he will undoubtedly take more time to do so than you would. While it’s a safe bet that many parents assist their children in getting dressed simply because it takes one-fifth the time to get everyone out the door in the morning, instead leave a little extra time and encourage your child to dress himself.
What to Expect and When
With these suggestions in mind, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the approximate ages at which children are able to master some of the more common dressing and undressing skills.
- Attempt to undress: One to one and one-half years
- Strip efficiently: Two years
- Attempt to pull on shirt, socks, and elastic-waist pants: Two and one-half to three and one-half years
- Dress and undress with some assistance: Three to four years
- Dress independently (including snaps and buttons): Around five years
- Learn to tie shoelaces: Around four to five years
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