Learning to get dress is one of those essential life skills that fosters independence in children, and encourages logical thinking. And when kids are taught to be independent, they grow into self-assured adults who are productive, motivated, and able to stand on their own two feet. So if you’ve been dragging your heels about teaching your preschooler how to dress himself, now is the perfect time to mark it on your growing list of parenting “to dos.” And here’s how to get started.
Let Kids Choose
Get your preschooler excited about dressing himself by allowing him select his own clothes. Don’t overwhelm him with too many choices. Letting him choose from two or three outfits is plenty. And since youngsters haven’t mastered the art of coordinating colors, the outfit options you present should be interchangeable. Once your child has decided on an outfit, lay the selected pieces neatly on a chair so he can easily reach them the next morning.
Make a Morning Routine Poster
A morning routine poster can effectively illustrate to a young child what he needs to do to get himself dressed everyday. Separate a poster board into columns, and then draw a picture of each clothing item (one garment per column). If you’re not handy with markers, use a digital camera to take snapshots of the clothing pieces, and then tape them on the poster board. Make sure you put the drawings or snapshots in a logical order for your child to follow. For instance, you wouldn’t put a picture of shoes in the first column because if your child puts his shoes on first, he won’t be able to get his pants or socks on properly. After you finish the poster, hang it at your child’s eye level in a spot where he can easily see it.
Get up Earlier
Naturally, when kids are learning to dress themselves, they’ll struggle quite a bit. So to prevent chaos, wake up earlier in the mornings to give your preschooler plenty of extra time to get ready. Also, unless your child is visibly frustrated, don’t step in to help him until you’ve given him an ample amount of time to figure out how to put his clothes on.
When you’re first teaching your young child to dress himself, stick with clothes that are easy for him to put on such as pants with elastic waist bands, and pullover shirts and sweaters. Once your child gets the hang of dressing himself in simple clothing, he can graduate to garments with snaps, zippers, and buttons. Use a permanent marker to mark the bottoms of your kid’s socks so he can tell which part of the socks belong on the bottom of his feet. To help your child learn to put his shoes on correctly, use specialty stickers that are created for this purpose. Also, in the beginning, don’t overwhelm your child with the technicalities of shoe-tying. Instead, opt for shoes with velcro straps. You can incorporate tying shoelaces after your child learns to dress himself without struggling.
Master the Buttons and Zippers
"Buttons and zippers can be especially challenging for younger preschoolers who are just gaining control over their small muscles,” says early education center director Patricia Hammonds. So start your youngster off with large buttons and buttonholes that are easy for little fingers to maneuver. If you are handy with a needle and thread, replace all of the small buttons on your child’s shirts with bigger ones. And reinforce any loose buttons so they won’t fall off while your child is fiddling with them. Sit down with your youngster and help him practice pushing the buttons in and out of the buttonholes. To make zipping easier for your kid, let him practice pulling the two sides of the zipper together while simultaneously zipping it up. Kids can also learn to maneuver buttons and zippers with fun activities such as playing dress up with oversized clothing and costumes, or by using “dress me” teddy bears and dolls. “There are tons of teddy bears and dolls on the market that come equipped with clothes that have snaps, buckles, zippers, laces, and buttons. These teddy bears give kids plenty of practice dressing, and are excellent for improving the dexterity in their fingers,” says preschool teacher Erin James.
Learning to get dressed is challenging for children – and being critical of them won’t make the task any easier. So resist the temptation to say things like, “Your shirt is buttoned wrong,” or “Your shoes are on the wrong feet again.” Comments like these seem harmless, but they can devalue your child’s efforts and crush his self-esteem. Instead, offer plenty of encouragement and honest praise for his efforts.
Teaching a youngster to dress himself can be taxing for both parent and child. But if you start simple, avoid criticizing, allow plenty of extra time in the mornings, and find ways to help your child strengthen his small muscles, he’ll eventually become a pro at getting dressed!