Lots of tots are ready to start learning dressing skills around age two. Here's how to stock your little one's wardrobe so learning how to get dressed will be easy, plus some tips to make it fun.
Sure, you’re still snapping snaps, buttoning buttons, and lacing up those cute little shoes, so it’s hard to believe your child will soon be dressing herself. But with her advancing fine-motor capabilities, growing curiosity about how to do stuff, and ever-insistent can-do (it myself!) attitude, that momentous milestone towards toddler independence is right around the corner. Your mission, Mom, is to set the stage for your toddler — and then your preschooler — to master self-care and successfully dress for success by helping her learn these basic dressing skills.
Wow, this skill is a fun one. After all, zippers make a neat noise when you zip them right. But unzipping is actually easier to master than zipping up, so start there (at around 22 months). Practice on a jacket with a big plastic zipper (or tie a short piece of yarn to a smaller metal zipper) so it’s easy for her to see and maneuver. The drill (for now) is you zip up and she zips down. At around 33 months, help her give zipping up a go by fitting the two sides in place at the bottom. Then suggest she pretend the zipper is a car on a road — she’s the driver and it’s her job to get the car to the top. Zip, zip, zoom!
Slipping On Shoes
One of the other dressing skills to try on at about 22 months is putting on those toddler shoes partway. Stretchy, low-top slip-ons are perfect picks for newbies. First, show her how you slip on your shoes. When it’s her turn, encourage her to scrunch up her toes to help ease her foot farther into the shoe. Then pull on the heel to complete her Cinderella moment. Once she’s around three, have her try a solo effort. (So she knows which shoe goes where, place little dots on the inner sides of a pair and explain the dots should be close to each other.) Seat her on the floor and have her slide each foot in, just like you two practiced. Hold off on laces and buckles — Velcro is a toddler’s best friend. Get ready to hear that sound — vvvrrrriiiicchhhtttt — over and over!
Pulling Up Pants
Just as with zippers, learning how to pull pants down is a lot easier than perfecting pulling them up — and actually more helpful if your tot’s in the potty process. Start with an elastic-waistband design (save buttons, snaps, and zippers for later) and help her step in by holding each pant leg open wide. Offer your hand or shoulders for balance. Once her pants are at her ankles, say, “Hmm, those pants don’t look right down there. What should we do?” If she has trouble getting things going, help her hoist ’em up to her thighs. Then coach her as she tugs those tiny trousers to the top. (Remember, practice makes perfect, so if she only gets ankle high the first few times, that’s fine.)
Putting On a Jacket
Your mom (or preschool teacher) may have used the topsy-turvy jacket trick when you were learning dressing skills — and for good reason: It works! Once your toddler is about 33 months old, lay a jacket on the ground, zipped open and on its back. With the hood or collar near her feet, have her stand over it and bend down, feeding her hands and arms through the sleeves. Next, tell her to pull the jacket up to her chest (so it looks like she’s wearing it backward and upside down with the hood pointing to the floor — how silly is that?). Ask her to raise her arms up to the sky so the jacket goes over her head, then wiggle the jacket down behind her back. Ta-da!
Slipping On a Pullover Top
Right around your little one’s third birthday, it will be time to have her try putting on her own pullover or T-shirt. Stand her in front of a mirror (you stand behind her) and guide a shirt over her head. When you’re at her forehead, say, “Peekaboo, I can’t see you,” and ask her to pull the shirt down over her face and around her neck. Hold out the sleeves and tell her to push her hand and arm through, one at a time. Stick to simple, loose shirts (ta-ta to turtlenecks for this lesson) without buttons to make it easier on her. To sharpen this skill, have her practice putting a pint-sized pullover on a doll or stuffed animal (a tiny hand-me-down from her own infant wardrobe adds to the fun).
Snapping snaps isn’t a snap for children, but once your sweetie hits the four-year mark she might be ready for this step in toddler growth. First, help her line up the snaps — hey, each one has a buddy who needs a hug — then coach her as she aims for the snaps’ centers and uses her big-girl muscles to push the pieces together until she hears a “click” sound. (Push down gently with her if she needs your supermom strength to finish the job.) Toddler clothes shopping tip: Seek out big snaps so those adorably chunky fingers have lots of surface area to push against. As for unsnapping, show her how pulling the two sides of the material apart can release the snaps — and don’t be surprised if she likes the undoing better than the doing!
This is one of the tough dressing skills, so give your little one (age four is about right) plenty of practice time. Show her how to grasp a button with one hand and the fabric around the opposite hole with the other. Help her push the bottom of the button through the hole (“See it peeking through?”). While she holds the button, tell her to use her other hand to pull the hole open more (this is way tricky, so go slow and keep smiling). Then lend a hand to slip the rest of the button through the hole. (“There it is!”) Clothing with big, bright buttons and large holes will help her get the hang of it, and so will practicing on stuffed animals (or willing siblings or Dad) with buttons on their clothes.