Teaching Kids How to Dress Themselves

When I was a brand new parent with Builder Boy I had a local friend with a baby girl four months older than mine. When they were around 18-24 months her daughter learned to take her clothes off, and did it constantly. I really didn’t want that to happen, as my friend complained about it a lot. So I didn’t encourage Builder Boy to learn young. When Builder Boy was 2.5 years old Early Bird came along very early. Taking care of a preemie and learning how to juggle two kids meant it was much easier to dress them myself than to try to encourage them through the process. But they eventually got “old enough” that I should teach them and I mentally froze. How do I teach them? I could dress myself, but I couldn’t verbally break it down into steps to explain what I did. Then there was also the perfectionism fear of teaching them to do it the “wrong” way. Pants: standing or sitting? Shirts: arm first or head first? Looking back I suppose that fear seems silly. But in the middle of it I was paralyzed with indecision and feelings of helplessness. What I wanted was a breakdown with pictures of what exactly they should do so I was doing it “right.” And I could not find such a guide. Some how, not really sure how, we did eventually figure it out and they get themselves dressed these days. They still wear Velcro shoes and Builder Boy mostly can not button things. (Early Bird decided he wanted to learn and taught himself and practiced in a mirror until he got it.)

Then came Lady Bug. After her Regression and during the Long Wait for her assessment I signed us up for Early Intervention hoping to get started on something and their main focus was….getting her involved in dressing herself. Before we started, Lady Bug didn’t fight me on dressing her, but she was completely uninvolved and uninterested in what was happening to her body.

The first step was to get her to notice what was happening with her. This involved me talking through the whole process, which was not natural for me but I got okay at it. For taking off shirts I held the sleeve up with her arm in it and some times she would pull her arm down and out. Sometimes though she would just leave it there, hanging. So I figured out that tickling her armpit gently (she likes tickles) usually brought her arm down and out of the sleeve. (It was long sleeve weather.) Getting her to push her arm through the sleeve was harder. I started by guiding her arm through half of the long sleeve, then holding something that she wanted so that she had to stretch out her arm though the sleeve to get it. We did this enough times, while saying “pull, pull” or “push, push, push!” and eventually it caught on. For the openings of shirts and dresses I held it open near my face and said “peek-a-boo!” through the head opening, then slid it over her head and said “peek-a-boo” again when her head came through. Soon she started ducking her head for the opening after I did the first “peek-a-boo.” For helping take off I would pull it almost all the way off and leave it hanging out on top of her head until she took it off. For putting on I would pull it most of the way but leave it with just her eyes exposed and she pulls it down from there. It has been almost 2 years and now she participates most of the time, can find the armhole and shove through the sleeve on her own with just a little clothing-repositioning guidance on my part. But she still needs help and isn’t ready to dress herself yet.

With leggings/pants I can’t exactly remember as well, but I think I stuck her feet in with her sitting in my lap, then stood her up and pulled them up. We haven’t made any progress with pulling pants on. Taking them off I never taught her, but she figured that out on her own recently because she wanted to take her diaper off.

For socks and shoes to start with the suggestion was to pull her socks half way off and just leave them bunched on her feet until she pulled them off herself. She never once seemed to care or tried to take them off herself. For teaching her to push into socks, I had her sit in my lap, put the prepared sock on with her leg bent and close to her body so that the comfortable seeking reaction of stretching her foot out mimicked the pushing into the sock motion that I needed. Shoes I chose to have her try to step into them from standing up, with me holding/moving/angling as needed. I also make sure my shoulder is available for her to lean on to balance herself so she felt comfortable shifting her weight to put in the other foot. I found a cute pair of shoes at the store two years ago and Lady Bug liked them so much she actually asked me to put them on her! After that happened I went back to the store and bought them in multiple sizes, so she could wear them for as long as she wanted.

I don’t know if there is anyone else who wants a detailed breakdown of helping your kid to engage in the dressing process. Especially from someone who’s daughter still isn’t dressing herself all the way. But I would have really appreciated something like this when I was starting two years ago, so I’m putting it here just in case it does help someone.

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