28 - 30 Months

Should my child be able to get dressed on their own yet?

Young child putting on a sweater with help from a woman
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An inside-out pajama top and a pair of winter boots, a leopard print leotard and knee-high frilly socks: you may not be ready for the combinations they come up with, but your child has reached the age where they may be able to start dressing themselves 🙃 

Between 28 and 32 months, children often have enough grasp-and-release strength and coordination to begin pulling clothes over their heads and pants up to their waists. It will likely be a few more years before they can fully dress on their own, but you can establish some early habits now. 

The two most important aspects of helping your child get dressed on their own are having clothes that are easy to put on and paying close attention to their interest level. Pants with elastic waistbands and wide openings at the ankles, short-sleeved shirts, and overly large clothing like dresses and sweatshirts they can pull on over their heads all make putting clothes on easier.* If your child is resistant to getting dressed on their own, consider continuing to do the job yourself for a while and try again later.

Here’s how you can help your child get dressed on their own:

Clothes are easier to take off than put on

Your child will likely be ready to take clothes off before they can put them on. This can happen as early as 26 months, and helps boost their confidence. You’ll need to help them with tricky parts like buttons and other fastenings, but try to let them do as much as they’re able. For example, if they can pull their pants down on their own, you can help with the final step of pulling the pant legs off their feet.

Give your child easy access to their clothes

By 30 months, your child may want to select certain clothes on their own and start putting their belongings away. A low, wide dresser works well for this, or the bottom two or three drawers of a taller one. 

Consider a visually logical arrangement that matches how they wear their clothes on their body: shirts in the top drawer, dresses in the middle, pants/shorts/skirts on the bottom. Socks and underwear can be in a separate place, like a nearby basket. If you don’t have a dresser, baskets on the floor of their closet or rolling drawers that fit under their crib or bed work just as well.

Focus on the last step

When young children are learning to get dressed, the last step will usually be the first thing they can do on their own. With pants, for example, your two-year-old will likely be able to pull them up only after their feet are all the way through the leg holes (and the pants are facing the right way). With shirts, putting their arms through the sleeves—with your help—is typically easier than getting the shirt on over their head, though some children like to do it the other way.

Limit their choices

A drawer full of clean clothes might be appealing to us adults, but it can be overwhelming for a small child trying to learn independence. Consider storing only a few items in a single layer so they’re clearly visible. When it’s time to get dressed, encourage your child to pick out their own outfit, choosing one item from each drawer. Try to resist commenting on colors and what matches or doesn’t; as long as they’re dressed for the weather, they’re good to go 😉

Give them plenty of time when you can

Getting dressed isn’t easy, and learning takes time. When you aren’t in a rush, allow your child extra time to work through some of the more challenging parts. If you’re in a hurry, you may want to dress your child yourself, but when you do have some extra time, allowing your child to put on even one article of clothing on their own can make the process more enjoyable for everyone).

Check out part 2 for specific ways you can teach your child to put their own clothes on.

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Posted in: 28 - 30 Months, Identity, Independence, Practical Life, Child Development

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