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Dressing Skills

When should my child learn dressing skills?

At 12 to 18 months, your child may help with dressing by holding his arms out for sleeves, or holding feet out for socks. Most children are ready to start learning to dress themselves at about 2 years of age. By 4 years of age, most children can zip jackets, button shirts, and put on socks by themselves. Many 5 year olds are still learning to tie their own shoes.

How do I teach my child dressing skills?

Your baby may start pulling off easy-to-remove items such as socks, shoes, or hats. You can start teaching your child by naming the items of clothing and the body part those clothes go on. Teach undressing before you teach your child to get dressed. It’s easier than dressing, and can get your child used to using his hands, arms, and feet with clothing.

When you decide it’s time for your child to start learning to dress, start with easy clothes, such as:

  • Loose, elastic-waisted pants (these can also help with toilet training)
  • Clothes with Velcro or big buttons and button holes
  • Slip-on dresses with larger arm holes
  • Clothes with pictures on the front and a tag in the back to help your child tell the front from the back

Learning to dress takes time, patience, and practice. Practice getting dressed when you and your child aren’t in a hurry. You can also practice in the evening when she can take time putting on pajamas, socks, and slippers. When you’re in a hurry, let your child do the easy tasks and help her with the harder tasks. Let your toddler choose between 2 t-shirts to wear for the day, and name them as you put them on her. Talk about the weather when you and your child are choosing clothes. Ask her whether it’s hot or cold, rainy or sunny. This helps your child understand that choosing clothes is about more than just picking favorites. Have your child sit down to get dressed.

Getting dressed can have a lot of steps. It helps to break it down into smaller steps and talk your child through the steps. For example:

  • Face the shirt the right way.
  • Push one arm at a time through the sleeves.
  • Line up the buttons.
  • Push the bottom button through the button hole.
  • Push the next button through the button hole.

Make it fun and remember to praise any attempts to do things by herself, no matter how much you helped. At first, praise your child often for doing the tasks involved in dressing. Once she is able to get dressed on her own, you don’t need to praise as often.

How do I avoid delays when my child gets dressed?

Once your child is able to dress herself (usually by age 4 or 5), encourage her to get dressed within a reasonable amount of time every morning. Here are some ways to help things go more smoothly.

  • Make sure your child is able to do the task you are asking her to do. Preschool-age children sometimes need some help. Learning how to tie shoes usually takes longer than learning other dressing skills. Have your child put the shoes on and you tie them until your child can tie shoelaces by herself.
  • Set up a morning routine for your child. For example, get up, go to the bathroom, make the bed, get dressed, and eat breakfast (or eat breakfast first and then get dressed if your child is likely to spill food on her clothes). This will help your child know what you expect. You might want to post a list in your child’s room as a reminder.
  • Give your child enough time (20 to 30 minutes before or after breakfast) to get dressed.
  • Praise or reward your child for getting dressed by herself and on time. You could give your child a sticker or a gold star when she succeeds, or play a game if time permits.
  • If your child does not finish dressing in the time you have allowed, have him stay in his room to finish dressing. Don't nag, scold, or threaten. If your child has a tantrum, use time-out. Until your child calms down, you should ignore what she does. Most children outgrow temper tantrums by the time they are 4 years of age.
  • If your child must go to school and is not dressed by 10 to 15 minutes before it is time to leave, dress her. Stay calm. Give clear instructions.
  • If your child continues to have problems getting dressed on time, talk with your child’s healthcare provider.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-28
Last reviewed: 2014-10-28
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.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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