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Dressing Problems: Teaching Dressing Skills

Most children are able to dress themselves by age 4 or 5. Even before your child can get dressed alone, you can start teaching the skills your child will need. Getting dressed helps your child learn to think logically and feel independent. It also helps to improve motor skills.

  • Encourage your child and praise her when she tries to put something on (even if it's wrong).
  • Start with simple clothing. Pants or skirts with elastic waistbands, loose t-shirts, or slip-on dresses with larger arm holes are a good way to start.
  • Choose socks with fitted heels.
  • Start teaching how to dress. For example, "Here's the tag. It goes in the back.”
  • Later, she will be able to show you. Make it fun and remember to praise any attempts to do things by herself (no matter how much you helped)
  • Let her take the lead and gradually decrease your help as your child gets better at dressing herself.

After your child is able to get dressed without your help, here are ways to encourage your child to get dressed within a reasonable amount of time.

  • Set a routine and follow it as consistently as possible. It is easier for your child if she knows what you expect. For example:
    • Get up at a regular time every day.
    • Go to bathroom.
    • Get dressed.
    • Eat breakfast.
    • Brush teeth.
    • Play or go to school.

All children get distracted from dressing by other things (siblings, toys, or pets). Set reasonable rules about dressing. Possible rules are:

  • Your child must get dressed in the bedroom.
  • The TV cannot be on.
  • You will give a 5 minute reminder and if your child is not finished dressing before breakfast, there will be a 3 minute “time-out.”

Be consistent. Follow through with the “time-out” if your child refuses to get dressed or throws a tantrum.

At first, praise your child often for mastering the tasks involved in dressing. Once she is able to dress herself on her own, you don’t need to continue the praise. Greet her with a big smile and acknowledge her for arriving at the breakfast table on time.

Learning how to tie shoes usually takes longer than learning other dressing skills. Children often have a hard time tying shoes. Have your child put the shoes on and you tie them until your child offers to help and can use her fingers on something as tricky as shoelaces.

Review progress weekly with your child. If your child continues to have problems, talk with your child’s healthcare provider.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-12-26
Last reviewed: 2012-12-26
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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