Getting dressed is an important skill for children to learn – but it can be hard for them. You can lay the groundwork when your child is a baby, then help your child learn how to get dressed over the next few years.
Why your child needs to learn how to get dressed
It’s the usual morning rush – you were supposed to be out the door five minutes ago, and your child is still putting on his socks. It’s no surprise that dressing your child yourself seems like the easiest and quickest option.
But your child needs to learn how to do it. The ability to dress yourself builds confidence, independence and a sense of achievement – and once your child has it mastered, it’s one less thing for you to do in the morning!
Getting dressed is about more than just putting on or taking off clothes. It helps your child develop many other skills, including:
- fine motor skills as she learns to fasten buttons and zips
- gross motor skills as she stands on one leg to pull on a pair of pants
- cognitive skills as she remembers what bits of clothing go on first, and builds the patience and
- attention to finish the task
- language as she names types of clothes, colours and sizes
- awareness of time and space as she learns to dress for certain occasions and weather conditions.
Teaching your child how to get dressed: basics
Learning how to get dressed needs patience, persistence and practice from both you and your child.
It also involves getting to know the things you have to do to get dressed, like:
- picking out clothes that are right for the time of day, the weather and what you’re doing that day – the tutu might not be the best thing for a bushwalk!
- deciding what to wear – the dinosaur t-shirt or the truck t-shirt today?
- putting on and taking off clothes and shoes
- doing up buttons or zips, getting collars and waistbands comfy, and getting socks on the right way around.
Getting started with getting dressed
Often very young children start to be aware of their clothing by pulling off easy-to-remove items such as socks, shoes or hats. Sometimes they try to put them on again. You can build on this early awareness by naming the items of clothing your child has taken off and the body parts those clothes go on.
You can start to include your older baby or toddler in getting dressed by giving him a limited choice of clothes, and naming them as you put them on him.
When you decide it’s time for your child to really start learning this skill, it can help to have some easy clothes on hand. These might include:
- loose, elastic-waisted pants – these are good if your child is also toilet training or can’t manage zips and buttons
- clothes with velcro or large buttons and button holes
- jumpers, t-shirts and underwear with logo or pictures on the front to help your child work out front from back
- clothes that are easy and comfortable for your child to move in.
Step by step to getting dressed
Breaking down the steps
Getting dressed can have a lot of steps. It helps to break it down into smaller steps – for example, putting on underwear, then t-shirt, shorts, socks and shoes.
You can also break down each of the steps in getting dressed, depending on your child’s skill and age. For example, you could break down the steps for putting on shorts like this:
- Face shorts the right way.
- Hold onto the front of the waistband.
- Push one leg at a time through the leg holes while also holding pants.
- Pull the shorts up.
Talking your child through each step lets her know what to do and includes her in the process. In the early stages, simple words or phrases are OK – for example, ‘Shirt on’. You can say more as your child’s language develops – for example, ‘Push your arm through the sleeve’.
Teaching steps backwards
A good way to teach your child to how to get dressed is to break down each task into small steps and teach him the last step first. Once he can do the last step of the task, teach him the second-last step, then the third-last step and so on.
For example, when putting on shorts, you might help your child face the shorts the right way, hold the waistband and put her legs through the leg holes. Then teach her the last step – pulling up the shorts to her waist by herself.
Once your child can do this, teach him to put his legs through the leg holes and pull his shorts up. You can keep working your way backwards through the steps until your child has mastered them all and can put his shorts on for himself.
A big advantage of this approach is that often the most rewarding thing about a task is getting it finished – and your child gets to this reward sooner when she masters the last step first.
When your child can almost dress himself (usually from three years and up), you can check whether he understands the steps by asking, ‘What’s the first thing you need to put on?’ If he can’t remember, you can help him get started by reminding him.