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Dressing Skills

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KEY POINTS

  • 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.
  • When you decide it’s time for your child to start learning to dress, start with easy clothes. Practice getting dressed when you and your child aren’t in a hurry. Make it fun and remember to praise any attempts to do things without help, no matter how much you helped.

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When should my child learn dressing skills?

At 12 to 18 months, your child may help with dressing by holding the arms out for sleeves or holding the 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 or her hands, arms, and feet.

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

  • Loose, elastic waist pants, which can also help with toilet training
  • Pull-on tops without buttons or zippers or tops with Velcro fasteners
  • Slip-on dresses with large 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 your child can take time putting on pajamas, socks, and slippers. When you don’t have much time, let your child do the easy tasks while you help with the harder ones. Let your toddler choose between two t-shirts to wear for the day, and name them as you put them on. Discuss the weather as you and your child choose clothes. Ask your child if it’s warm, cold, snowy, rainy or sunny. This helps your child understand that choosing clothes is about more than just picking favorites.

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 without help, no matter how much you helped. At first, praise your child often for doing the tasks involved in dressing. Once your child can get dressed without help, you don’t need to praise as often.

How do I avoid delays when my child gets dressed?

Once your child can dress without help, usually by age 4 or 5, encourage your child 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 can do the task you are asking him or her to do. Preschool-age children sometimes need 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 the shoelaces. Or, to make this task easier, use shoes with Velcro fasteners.
  • 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. This will help your child know what you expect. Once your child can read, 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. If your child has trouble deciding what to wear, help choose the clothes for the next day before going to bed.
  • Praise or reward your child for getting dressed without help and on time. You could give your child a sticker or a gold star when your child succeeds, or play a game if time permits.
  • If your child does not finish dressing in the time you have allowed, have your child stay in his or her room to finish dressing. Don't nag, scold, or threaten. If your child has a tantrum, use time-out. Until your child calms down, try to ignore the behavior. 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 your child. 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 Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-09-17
Last reviewed: 2019-09-16
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.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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