Encouraging Children To Dress Independently

Encouraging Children To Dress Independently

In my last post on Time Management For Parents I noted that spending time with children teaching them to do things themselves is a great way to free up more time for yourself in the longer term and increase independence and self confidence in your children.

These tasks need to be age appropriate and one which I am working on at the moment with my children is encouraging them to dress themselves. Educational consultant Kathy Walker makes the following recommendations on what ages children should be dressing themselves:

Children are able to start dressing themselves from about 2 and a half to 3 years of age. It may be as simple as pulling on a sock or jacket. Giving them practise is useful without it having to become a regimented ordeal for the child. By 4 or 5 years of age, children can be expected to be able to dress themselves but may still require help with buttons and zips etc. Children are not expected to tie shoelaces until about 6 or 7 years of age.

Babaganouski is 3 in a few months and I am trying to encourage and develop his ability to dress himself. We have mastered jocks and pants so far and we have now started working on t-shirts. From previous experience with my other children, I have found the following steps help make this process easier:

(1). Accessibility

The children need to be able to access their clothes themselves. Drawers can often get messy quickly with little hands ruffling through them, so I use boxes to divide clothes into groups and make it easier for the children to find what they are looking for (as pictured above). I have written more about this in my post on Reorganising The Children’s Drawers And Wardrobes.

(2). Limit Choice

To much choice for a two year old can make the decision of what to wear go on for ages! By limiting the number of clothes in their drawers / wardrobe it aids them be able to come to a quicker decision. The choice available also needs to be weather appropriate. If a child has a favourite pair of shorts, then they are likely to choose them to wear regardless if it is freezing outside.

(3). Time

Ensure that they have plenty of time to dress themselves and that you are not hovering over them and trying to hurry them up.

(4). Limit The Learning Focus

I have found it helps the children if we focus on one area at a time of dressing themselves. As noted the first thing I have focused on with my two year old, is his underwear and pants. It builds their confidence to achieve success with one item, before moving on to the next. It can be quite overwhelming to a child to expect them to do everything themselves at once.

(5). Recognise The Process

It can be tempting when a child learning to dress themselves comes out with a t-shirt on back the front or with a shirt button missed, to go straight to them and fix it up or explain to them that they need to fix it up. By this being the first thing we say to them, it can be very discouraging for a chid.

It is important to acknowledge the fact that they have tried to dress themselves and managed to get the relevant articles of clothing on their body. I am not talking about gushing empty praise on the child, as I think that is counter productive (for more info on the inverse power of praise you can see my post on Ways To Encourage Your Child). But acknowledging the fact that the process they followed – choosing clothes, applying themselves to get the item on, persisting with small finger movements to do up their buttons etc.

How do you help your child learn to dress themselves?


  1. says

    This probably wouldn’t work for all but when my kids get to an age when they can start dressing themselves we tend to have the next one (not sure what to do with the last one!!!) and I get busy… my husband takes over the dressing and not being one for chores our kids seem to learn remarkably fast!!! I have no idea how he does it… I don’t have the same happy go luckiness… Otherwise I totally agree with availability and choices… all my kids keep their clothes in three drawers… bottom drawer for trousers and shorts, middle drawer for shirts and sweaters and top drawer for undies. And I limit them to one or two of each item… it really is the choosing and then choosing again and then again… that takes them hours!!!

    Great post!

    se7ens last blog post..The Whole Wide World in Se7en Steps…

  2. says

    We did the boxes and drawers thing with Annie. She was dressing herself almost as soon as she could stand up.

    Heidi on the other hand is 4yo and still struggles. We had to change the system for her needs.

    I’ve got a picture schedule up on the wall showing the order to get dressed and matching pictures on the drawers to show where the clothes are.

  3. PlanningQueen says

    Se7en – Well organised drawers really do help.

    Marita – Sounds like a great process you have going for Heidi.

  4. Amity says

    Any thoughts on what to do if your child CAN dress himself, but would prefer to play with his toys than take the time to do it? My son will be three is a couple of weeks and although he can dress himself, he often says “You do it. You put my shirt on.” I’ve tried putting it on my head and saying, “Hmm, it doesn’t fit.”, saying “I’ll do this sock, you do the next”, etc, but I’d really like to help him focus on the task at hand and have more time to play afterwards. Should I hide all toys until clothes are on? Any suggestions on how to keep him better focused and motivated to dress himself?

  5. says

    I get the clothes out for my twins and out them on the bed. They are so independent they will hardly let me help (read hurry them along) now. It’s all “I do it” , “my do it’ if we try.
    I have to get the clothes out to save fighting over what belongs to who … plus daddy can’t match LOL.

    Great ideas Nicole

    Trishs last blog post..Have you heard this ?

  6. says

    It’s very wonderful of you to share these tips. I have a two-year-old who just got potty trained and I have wondered if the next thing to do is teach her how to put on her clothes. At least with you sharing the expected age for a certain task (like tying shoes is expected at 7 years old), I now have an idea. I completely agree that when kids learn to dress themselves on their own, it frees up a considerable amount of your time. Putting on kids garments can really be time-consuming and frustrating sometimes, especially if your kids just won’t cooperate.