Getting a toddler dressed can be a stressful experience, especially when they are in the thick of the “I can do it myself” phase. One of Maria Montessori’s most famous quotes is “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” This tells us to support our child’s desire to dress themselves and to encourage their independence.
Empowering your child to complete practical life skills such as getting dressed will not only help make it go faster and with less friction, but it will also positively contribute to their developmental skills such as fine and gross motor control, problem-solving, and spatial awareness. It can even give them a huge confidence boost!
These tips from Bringing Up Babe will help you apply the Montessori approach to self-dressing.
A prepared environment is crucial in setting your toddler up to succeed with dressing tasks.
Simple adaptations to their dressing routine can make a big difference in the outcome!
- Letting your child choose their own outfit is one easy way to give them a sense of control and start the routine out on a good foot. Give a few appropriate choices so they don’t feel overwhelmed. You can plan ahead and choose items that can easily mix and match with each other if you are concerned about clashing.
- Have a low, toddler-friendly chair or stool available. Performing dressing tasks while seated is not only easier, but it’s safer too! A nearby mirror will also help provide visual feedback.
- Breaking dressing tasks down to each component and slowly teaching the steps will make them less overwhelming.
- Show your child how to orient their clothing by using “landmarks” such as tags, bows, or ties. Bows and ties in front, tags in back.
- Lay their clothes out pre-oriented.
More tips for supporting independent dressing
- Maintain your child’s confidence by not correcting dressing errors like backwards shirts unless it will affect their safety (i.e. shoes on the wrong feet pose a tripping risk.)
- Choose clothing that encourages independent dressing:
- Elastic waist pants are a smarter choice than pants with a snap or button.
- Baggier pants offer more wiggle room than leggings and may result in less frustration when learning to thread their legs through.
- Loose-fitting shirts without snaps or buttons are also the best choice.
- Short sleeves with large neck holes are a great starting point to avoid frustration.
- Socks are tricky! Try to choose stretchy ones with extra room in order to allow them to glide onto your child’s feet. One way to practice donning socks is to have your child sit in a low chair and thread their feet through hair scrunchies. This helps with motor planning, problem-solving, and strengthens the muscles used while putting on socks!
- Favor shoes with Velcro closures instead of buckles or ties. Low-top shoes with a loop in the back will help them get their foot inside! A fun tip to help your child properly identify the correct shoes for each foot is to cut a sticker in half and put them inside to form a puzzle. The puzzle only lines up correctly if they put the left and right shoes facing each other accurately.
- Choose a loose-fitting coat with a smooth lining to make putting it on easier.
In addition to allowing many opportunities to practice these new skills (ideally without time constraints) your child can practice isolated dressing skills on dressing frames. These materials are used to help a child work on Velcro, snaps, buttons, zips, and ties.
Learning to get dressed independently can sometimes be a long (and frustrating!) process for everyone involved. But setting your toddler up for success with the right attitude, environmental and clothing adaptations, and lots of time to practice will help them master the skills they so desperately want to do “all by themselves”.
In the end, the effort you put in will be worth it when you’re able to get out the door quicker and with minimal frustration!
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