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Tips for Teaching Toddlers to Dress Themselves

As parents or caregivers, one of the most exciting moments is seeing your little ones grow and develop. Time passes by swiftly; not long ago, you swaddled them, watched them crawl, and now they are taking their first steps independently. They are even more curious about exploring the world and things around them and start gaining important skills.

One of them is getting dressed, which is a significant milestone for every parent and toddler. This ability not only makes your child more independent but can also save you time and energy. However, acquiring the skill may turn into a difficult and overwhelming process, as young kids are often easily frustrated and may be resistant to learning. This article will provide you with a few tips to make teaching them to get dressed an easy and fun experience. Let's get started!

toddler choosing clothes

How to Teach a Child to Dress Themselves?

When it comes to teaching your child to get dressed, it’s essential to keep in mind that they learn at their own pace. Therefore, you should focus on making the process supportive and fun and employ different approaches along the way. In this article, we’ll be covering how to implement the following practices:

  1. Setting a routine and making time.
  2. Undressing.
  3. Choosing the right clothing.
  4. Breaking the process into smaller parts.
  5. Distinguishing the front and back.
  6. Putting clothes on together.
  7. Dressing when your child sits.

Before we start discussing the points that can ease the learning process, it’s necessary to understand when the best time is to start.

When to Start?

In fact, there’s no specific age or correct time to start teaching your toddler dressing skills. Usually, young kids begin to be aware of garments by pulling off easy-to-remove clothing items. Most of the time, it happens as early as 18 months.

Have you noticed your toddler is removing anything like their own shoes, hats, or socks? Have you watched them trying to put those things on again? Then, it’s a sure signal to start introducing your little one to the process.

What Clothing to Select?

In the beginning, it’ll be helpful also to find out which garments are better for learning. So if you have decided it’s time to start teaching your child dressing skills, then be sure to prepare appropriate clothes. It can be the following:

  • t shirts, sweaters, jumpers, and underwear with designs they like (it can be pictures of animals, abstract bright or simple prints, or even images of characters from cartoons they usually watch);
  • loose shorts and elastic pants;
  • any items with velcro closures or large buttons (make sure the button holes are visible enough).

All in all, when selecting a child's clothes, prefer those that are easy to put on and take off. Avoid items with too many snaps, buttons, or zippers, as these can be tough for young kids to manage.

Priority should be given to clothing that is comfortable and easy for your little one to move in. Therefore, be attentive to sizes and use charts to find the item that will fit perfectly and not hamper the movements.

Always remember to opt for high-quality, breathable, and durable garments. Look for ones made with materials delicate to the toddler's skin so they will not cause any irritations or other inconveniences. If you have any doubts about where to find clothing for your little one, you can read our expertly curated list of the top 10 stores to buy toddler clothes in 2023 and fully enjoy the shopping process. All of these stores present a wide range of quality garments as well as footwear and accessories to suit any preferences.

toddler rummages through the dresser with clothes

Tips for Helping Your Child Learn to Get Dressed

Now that you have the right clothes on hand, let's uncover in detail several practices to help your children dress themselves. Pay attention to the fact that it’s better to try each one instead of relying on a specific recommendation. That way, you’ll find out what works best for your little one and make the process most effective.

Stay Patient When Children Dress Themselves

The first and probably most meaningful piece of advice we would like to share is to stay patient each time you try to practice any of the methods below.

Even getting dressed in simple items can be challenging for your toddler at first, and it may take longer than expected. You should stay patient in these moments and refrain from taking over the task. Give them enough time to try, make mistakes, and correct them politely. That way, they don’t feel confused or upset and won’t lose interest.

As you practice different approaches, your child will learn and improve. Always be supportive and praise their effort and even the smallest achievements.

Establish Routines and Don't Hurry Up

Establishing routines is essential, as it can help children understand what to expect. It also makes the whole process less overwhelming for both. You can prepare a consistent schedule with short-time lessons, repeat them daily (or every two days; think of the most convenient periodicity), and encourage your little one's independent effort.

Furthermore, make sure you allocate enough time for your child to dress themselves. Avoid rushing or pushing them to get dressed faster. That's because it can create a sense of tension in children, leading to resistance and tantrums. Instead, provide them with enough time to accomplish the task at a relaxed pace.

Begin with Undressing

Taking garments off is a much easier task for toddlers to perform independently, so this practice is a good one to start with. How does it work? Simply show your child how to take off their t shirt or pants, and they will eventually develop a desire to put them on.

After grasping undressing, children will become more confident in dealing with clothes, and you can encourage them to discover how to put on what they have just taken off. This approach can make the process more exciting and help prepare kids for the “next step.”

Let Them Wear Clothes They Like the Most

It's perfectly normal that toddlers may have strong opinions about what they want to wear. If they don't want to learn to dress with the items you've prepared, let your little one choose clothes they like, even if it isn’t your favorite outfit.

You may also take them shopping with you, browse some clothing stores online together, or consider selecting from our five cute toddler outfit ideas in 2023 to help them find the option perfect for their taste. You’ll encourage your toddler's independence by allowing them to make choices and not criticizing their preferences. By doing this, you can motivate them to keep developing their dressing skills.

Break Down the Task

To make the task your toddler is mastering more manageable, break it down into smaller steps. For instance, you may try to explain the steps of getting dressed:

  • first, putting on underwear;
  • then elastic pants;
  • followed by a t shirt or sweater;
  • finally, socks and shoes.

You can choose one item for this practice as well. For example, help your toddler face the pants the right way, then hold the waistband and show them how to put their legs through the holes. The last step is teaching them to pull their pants up to their waist.

Keep working through the steps several times until your child can repeat the correct order by themselves. Overall, dividing the process into smaller parts helps children focus on one task at a time, making it less complicated and intimidating.

Show the Differences between the Front and Back

It's natural for kids to mistakenly put shoes on the wrong feet as well as wear their clothes backward. Therefore, when familiarizing toddlers with dressing themselves, it's essential to clarify the difference between the front and back of their garments.

Start by guiding them to the difference between the front and back of their shirts, pants, and underwear. Consider using images or drawings to help illustrate the distinctions. Point out any specific and distinguishing elements, such as tags and sizing labels, which usually go in the back, while fasteners or buttons are designed to be on the front. Also, you can tell them that the side pockets of their pants should be in the front and the square ones in the back.

Once they grasp the idea, encourage them to try putting on their clothes independently. Reinforce the concept by asking them to check if their garments are on correctly. With repeated practice, they will learn to recognize the front and back of their clothes and get them on correctly the first time.

Dress Together

Children can learn plenty of things by observing others, so give them opportunities to imitate. Walk them through the dressing process slowly so they can watch you do it and copy your actions. Try to describe each step in simple words, and wait for your toddler to repeat the steps after you. As they gain enthusiasm, encourage them to dress themselves and assist when necessary.

Teaching your toddler getting dressed together is a fun way to familiarize your little one with an important skill. You can use this practice to guide them on how to put on different clothing items or even show them how to tie their shoes. This method also contributes to the bonding experience, creating positive associations with the process.

Practice Dressing While Seated

Your little one is still learning the art of balancing. That's why they usually find it easier and more convenient to put on and take off their garments while seated rather than standing up. Sitting down makes reaching their clothes easier and reduces the risk of falling during the process (e.g., when putting legs into leg holes).

For that reason, you can teach your child to get dressed while seated at first. They will better practice putting on and taking off socks and shoes or master finding the right pant leg in a sitting position. Once they have learned this, encourage them to try it while standing.

Development of Skills for Getting Dressed

Familiarizing your little ones with the concept of dressing themselves can significantly influence their development. Acquiring the skill of self-dressing helps a child develop some other important ones, such as:

  • fine motor skills (using small muscles to button clothes);
  • gross motor skills (standing on one leg to put on pants);
  • cognitive skills (breaking down the task to understand the sequence of events and focus on the end goal);
  • independence (learning gives a sense of achievement and confidence in own abilities);
  • language skills (identifying garment types, colors, or sizes).

It's also worth mentioning that dressing skills may differ at different ages. For instance, at one year, your little one can usually pull socks off or push their legs through pants, while at two and a half years, they try to put on those socks. At three years, they may already take off t-shirts without help; at four years, they even buckle shoes or belts. Remember that these are only examples of dressing skills by age; every child develops specific abilities at different rates.

Closing Thoughts

Teaching your toddler the art of self-dressing is an important step in their development. It can be a pretty challenging task for both you and them, but the rewards that come with it make it worthwhile. Not only will your little one develop self-reliance and autonomy, but they will also gain confidence as they learn a new practical skill.

With some patience and guidance from your side, your child will master how to dress themselves in no time. Just be sure to follow the article's recommendations to make the whole process smoother and much more exciting!

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