Teaching Kids How to Get Dressed

Mom dressing her baby boy
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Like to wrestle? Because if you spend any time getting a little kid dressed, that's probably what you are doing. Trying to get a small child to stand or sit still long enough so you can pull up pants or throw a shirt over their head can be, well, trying. The good news is, learning to get dressed is a sequence of lessons that most preschoolers master by the time they turn five.

And like everything else, learning to get dressed is definitely make for teachable moments. Not only do kids have to develop certain gross and fine motor skills to do things like put legs into pant holes or pull up a zipper, but they also need to start matching colors and recognizing how to choose clothing that will keep them warm or cool enough, all contributing to a growing sense of independence.

Learning to get dressed isn't a single skill that your child will learn overnight. Rather, it's a series of lessons that your child will grow to understand as they grow and mature.

Here are some approximate ages of when kids figure out certain aspects of dressing themselves:

  • Starting to get undressed: 12 to 18 months old
  • Can get completely undressed without help: 18 to 24 months old
  • Pull up pants that have an elastic waistband: Two to two and a half years old
  • Put on socks or a shirt: Two and a half years to three years old
  • Get dressed and undressed with minimal assistance (including no-tie shoes): Three to four years old
  • Dress independently including any buttons, snaps, zippers, or buckles: Four to five years old
  • Tie shoes: Between five and seven years old

Don't stress if your child hasn't hit one of these milestones. These ages are simply guidelines and depend a lot on your child's gross motor skills, maturity and interest in the process.

Show and Tell

You may think because your child has been part of the process of you getting her dressed every morning that you can hand her a pair of pants and they'll pull them right on. And for some kids, that may be the case. But for many children, a simple lesson in how the clothing gets put on will do wonders. Keep it easy. Show on yourself and then help your child get dressed, giving a running commentary on what you are doing. "Your pants have three holes. One at the top that goes around your waist and one for each leg. Make sure the tag goes in the back."

Simple Is Best

To make the process simple, let your child learn on garments that are easy to put on. Loose-fitting clothing that doesn't have buttons, zippers, or snaps are great to start off with. Elastic waistbands, large openings, and pieces that have tags in the back (to avoid putting something on backward) are also very little-kid friendly.

Make Success Easy to Reach

If your child's clothing is hanging high in the closet, it is going to be a lot harder for them to start the process. If it is possible, put all the clothing that your little one will need to access at a level that they will be able to reach, use drawers at the bottom of the bureau and lower the bar in the closet if you can. If not, together with pick out the outfit that your little one is going to wear. In the beginning, give them a few choices, three at the most, of outfits to choose from.

Solicit Their Opinion

The thing about teaching a child to dress themselves is, that once they learn to do it, they are going to want a say in what they wear. And believe it or not, that is a good thing.

You may see some interesting outfits. Think checkered pants and a striped shirt, but that's OK. In fact, it is great. Little ones are learning that they have an opinion and it's OK to express it.

As long as the outfit isn't inappropriate (not warm enough for instance), let them wear what they like. You are only young once and chances are their tastes will soon become more refined as he/she gets older.

Time and Patience Complete the Look

Make no mistake, getting dressed on your own is not an easy task. Even when a child has all the motor skills down, there is still a lot to think about. It's important to not rush them, especially in the days where they are just learning. Be patience and resist the urge to just get your child dressed yourself. The more you step in, the less they'll learn.

Mismatched Socks? Backward Shirt? Praise, Praise, Praise

Learning to dress yourself is not a skill a child will learn overnight. And there can be some steps backward. So, if your little one comes downstairs with their shoes on the wrong feet or pants that aren't buttoned, help them fix what needs fixing, but also be sure to commend them for their great work.

Do your kids get themselves dressed? What is the funniest ensemble they've ever put together? Check out our reader gallery of kid looks and then share your child's most creative outfit!

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