In addition to giving your child greater independence, learning to dress can also help your child strengthen the following skills:
- Fine motor skills attained from using objects like zippers, buttons, fasteners, and shoestrings
- Gross motor skills gained from actions like stepping into shoes, standing into pants, or pulling on clothing
- Cognitive skills and logical reasoning from activities like choosing clothing and learning the sequential order of clothing
- Language skills attained from learning the names, sizes, and colors clothes as well as names of body parts
- Time and seasonal awareness gained from learning to dress for different occasions, weather conditions, times of the day, and seasons of the year
- Orientation and spatial development obtained from learning how to identify the front, back, left, right, top, and bottom of clothing and grooming tools
How Do I Prepare for Teaching My Child How to Dress?
Children often start the process themselves by removing items like socks, shoes, gloves, or hats. Instead of scolding them, you can use this opportunity to build vocabulary and awareness for getting dressed. Start by naming the articles of clothing and body parts associated with them.
Another thing you can do is to name body parts and clothing whenever you dress or child. When a toddler is old enough, provide the child with a couple of options (“Do you want the red shirt or the blue shirt?”) and then name the clothing and body parts while getting dressed.
Once you are ready for your child to truly begin practicing the skill, keep a drawer with easy clothes handy. Examples include the following:
- Loose pants with elastic waistbands
- Drawstring pants
- Shirts with large buttons and buttonholes
- Shorts with large, child-safe zippers
- Jumpers or underwear with clear labels for “front” and “back”
It is often helpful to buy larger clothes that can help the child clearly see buttons, openings, and labels. These clothes are often easier for the child to put on and remove, and they will give the child a chance to grow into them and become comfortable with putting on familiar items.
How Can I Help My Child Get Dressed Without Feeling Frustrated?
While getting dressed can feel like second nature by the time we are adults, it is important to remember that there are a lot of steps for children to learn. These include putting on undergarments, then shirts, pants, socks, shoes, and jackets. For this reason, it is usually easier to divide the process into smaller steps. For example, putting on pants can include the following mini steps:
- Stand in front a mirror
- Face the pants the correct way
- Hold open the waistband
- Push one leg through the correct leg hole while holding the other side of the pants (if easier, the child can try putting them on while seated)
- Stand up to pull the pants up the rest of the way
If each of the small steps are a lot to absorb, you can also try teaching the steps backwards over the course of a week. For example, complete all the mini steps exact for the last one. For this final step, instruct your child to stand up and pull the pants up the rest of the way. The next day, make your child do the last two steps. The following should include the last three steps, and so on. This method can help your child learn a routine without feeling frustrated.
Other teaching tips include the following:
- Always allow enough time for practicing. This means that you should choose a non-scheduled day when you are not in a hurry to get to an appointment or rush out the door. Doing so helps alleviate pressure so that you child can gain patience with the learning process.
- Use visual aids. Simple illustrated cue cards or picture charts can complement verbal commands. You can also hang these cue cards near your child’s drawer or mirror for review as needed. It is often helpful to make one set of cue cards for getting dressed in the morning and another set for putting on pajamas at night.
- Create a body shape. The night before, try laying out clothing in the shape in which the child will wear them in the morning.
- Buy Spectrum–Friendly Clothing. For children diagnosed with autism or sensory processing disorder, anything from tags to scratchy material can feel irritating. Go for tag-less shirts, elastic pants, and breathable fabrics to make getting dressed easier.
- Create a rewards system. Many children respond well to positive feedback. Just as you can create visual aids to assist with the learning process, you can create a rewards chart to acknowledge success. Use stickers or magnets to signify process, and create rewards based on your child’s interests. For example, a week of successful milestones (Monday-Friday) can earn any item at the dollar store.
If you need additional information or would like your child to work with an occupational therapist for self-care development, contact The Warren Center.