Jenn was wearing underwear before her second birthday. Emma was so strong-willed she refused to accept help in getting dressed from a time before she could even say a simple sentence. And Rhett was putting on his own shoes by 9 months. And while some of this is self-guided, we believe in empowering our kids to dress themselves as toddlers so that they start the day with a sense of accomplishment… or at least determination to get through.
Of course, we have run into bumps in the road as shirts get put on backwards, shoes on the wrong feet, and the terrifying realities of having your head stuck and can’t find the right hole.
But over time we realized not only were our kids just figuring things out a bit better, but that we were coming up with simple tricks to help them on their solo journey of putting clothes on each morning.
Tips for Teaching Kids How to Dress Themselves
Teaching your child to be independent is an important confidence builder. And teaching your kids how to dress themselves will help them learn to be more independent.
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1. Start easy by undressing and/or pushing his arms through his sleeves.
Start with undressing. Getting undressed is easier than getting dressed so let your child get themselves undressed at the end of the day and at bath time so they can start to get comfortable with how their clothes work.
Another easy way to get started is by simply learning to push while dressing. Simply place the shirt over his head and ask him to stretch his arms into the sleeves. They learn the mechanics of needed to work through getting clothes on, but also that they won’t be stuck forever… because even for older kids that can be panicking.
And if they do panic over getting an arm or their head stuck, make it a game. We usually open up the head hole and work with it first and make it a fun peek-a-boo window. If you’re kids aren’t as sensitive, it could be a dinosaur or the shirt monster coming to get them.
2. Give them elastic pants, saving fasteners for play-time.
They’re easier to pull on and off than ones with buttons and zippers. It’s a good place to start until they have the motor skills to handle buttons. Keep the pants loose and comfortable so they can be easily maneuvered.
There are some great activity board games to help kids get used to the different fasteners like buttons, zippers, buckles, and snaps. This is a good way to let them play and as they master the skills, you can introduce clothing more with those fasteners.
Buttons take more motor skills so it may take some practice and be a longer time before they are mastered. Be patient and have your child practice for as long as they need.
3. Teach your child to sit when putting on anything that goes on the bottom.
Socks, underwear, pants, are all easier to put on from a sitting position instead of standing. They can get their feet and legs into them easier when they don’t have to balance. They can pull underwear and pants on up to their knees, making sure both feet are completely through, then stand to pull up the rest of the way.
Sitting down also is a good start when helping kids understand and recognize front and back. Teach them which is the front and which is the back so they can recognize this on all their clothes.
A lot of times we talk about tags being at the back. Unfortunately, it’s not the case for a lot of clothes now or the tagless clothing sometimes gets worn off and there’s no indicator. Therefore, we’ve used this trick, especially with underwear for the last 5 years and it’s worked like a charm for our family: Toddler underwear: how to help them put it on independently
Some good things that are almost always true are that side pockets are in front and square pockets in the back, zippers are usually in the front, etc.
4. Make up rhymes and songs to help kids remember correct positioning
One of our favorite rhymes that’s stood the test of time is for putting on shoes. We start our kids off with easy to slip on velcro sneakers. It gives them complete independence to dress themselves head to toe. But inevitably, shoes will go on the wrong feet and with one of our kids knock-kneed, this was important to address early. So we used the rhyme “velcro goes to the pinkie toes” meaning that the velcro goes up and over with the end landing on the pinkie toe.
5. Work through jacket and coat strategies.
For some kids the coat flip is very effective. All they do is lay out their coat or jacket upside-down with the hood point to them and opened to the inside. They then slide their arms in the holes and flip it over their head.
It’s not effective for every child so it’s also a good ideas to simply help kids remember that hooded jackets go on head first. They won’t have to figure out which arm goes in which sleeve. Then they can simply push their arms through.
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Kara is an author, wife, and mother of 3 children living in Boston, MA. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and even helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!