How to Teach Your Child to Dress Themselves (& How it Helps You!)

how to teach a child to dress themselves

Many moms wonder how to teach their child to dress themselves.  There’s so many tiny steps that need to be taken for a toddler to learn how to dress independently.  Will they ever learn how to do it all themselves?

The answer, of course, is yes.

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As a mom of #3threeandunder, or cluster babies, I spend a lot of my day putting clothes on my kids, then off the kids, just to put more on them. Not to mention diapers. And the 30 seconds I use to throw on my own t-shirt and some jeans.

But I’m sure you notice that budding independence in your toddler as she tries to dress herself.  Maybe she’s trying to put on her socks.  Or maybe she’s trying to take off her jacket.  

Sometimes, as moms, it is in our nature to just do it for them because we can do it faster.  And it’s true: in the moment it is definitely faster!

 However, slowing it down and investing time into teaching our little ones these life skills (as they are ready for it) has several benefits!  It is certainly a confident boost for them to achieve these abilities.  They will know how to do certain things like putting on a shirt or zipping up a coat. 

These are skills that they will be using practically every day of their life!  And one of the best perks is for you:  your child will now be able to do it so you don’t have to. 

Now, when I actually think about it, it makes me tear up, because I don’t dress my daughter every day anymore.  And I’m sure once my youngest is old enough, I’ll be begging to dress him.  (Can’t we please just keep them little forever?)

 Anyhow, on a day-to-day basis, it really is incredibly helpful to our daily routine that my daughter can now completely and independently dress herself.  Each night before bed, we pick out her clothes and set them on her dresser.  After she wakes in the morning, she gets dressed, puts her jammies in her hamper.  

By the time I see her, it’s like magic!  One task that I need to take care of, is already done.  

This is also helpful on the other end.  While I’m getting her younger brothers dressed for bed, she is able to take that same time to dress herself.  Some people would see this as a small thing, but if you’re a mom of little ones, you know what a difference it could make in your everyday!

 Now, how to get to this magical point in toddlerhood.  Keep these three words in mind: gradual, practice, and praise.

How to teach a child to dress themselves? Gradually.

I wish I could title this article, “How to teach your kid to dress himself in 24 hours!”  Unfortunately, that just isn’t the reality.  Just like most things our children learn, it is a gradual process. 

Follow your child’s lead.  Toddlers are naturally looking for independence!  Take what your child is trying to do, and help them to do it! 

For example, my 1.5 year old son right now, wants to put on his own shoes.  He sits down, and basically hits his shoe on his foot, willing it to go on.  I’m taking his lead with this one.  Now banging his shoe on his foot will never lead to the shoe actually going on.  

But I help him put it on, and I show him how to use the Velcro strap.  This is something that his little hands do have the ability to do right now.  I Velcro the strap for him, making sure he is watching, and talking him through it.  Then I undo it, and let him try.  

When he does it, I sing his praises, and then repeat with the next shoe.  

The next time we go to put shoes on, I’ll show him again how to do the Velcro with the first shoe.  Then, for the second shoe, I’ll try to let him do it without my help.  

The following time, he might need me to demo the strap again or maybe not.  He should be close to mastering this task.  Once he can independently strap his shoes, that is now permanently his job to do.  I won’t really ever strap those shoes on him again. (Cue the mom tears.) 

 But this is also helpful to me.  If I am putting shoes on him, that means that we are going outside or to the car, (link) and that means there are a variety of little tasks that need to get done: gathering all the things (bottles, snacks, diapers), getting baby dressed, helping to zipper sister’s coat.  

If my son is able to strap his little sneakers, then I can pop on his shoes, and move onto the next of the 100 tiny tasks it takes to get out of the door.

 –insert meme about mom being last to get ready–

You can take this approach with just about anything.  Zippering jackets, pulling up pants, putting on a shirt. You get the idea.  It is all gradual.  Slowly, but surely, your toddler will gain this bit of independence.

How to teach a child to dress themselves? Practice.

Like we all know, practice makes perfect.  This is true when it comes to teaching your child to dress himself.  

So how to practice?  Well the obvious would be anytime they are getting dressed.  

If you are looking for your child to improve with this, select one task to focus on.  And make it simple.  Rather than putting on a shirt himself, start with pulling the shirt over his head independently.  As he gets better, he can do the arms by himself, too.

 nother way to practice is to make it play!  As we know, kids learn through play.  

In my daughter’s room, I had a bin of winter hats and new sandals.  She loved to put them on herself and her dolls!  As I noticed her doing that, I added in a few skorts that were still a little too big on her, but thought it’d be great in this make-shift dress-up bin.  

Pretty soon, she was able to put on the skort….and then other shorts and pants…completely by herself.  

And it took no more effort than offering to let her play with them.

You could do an all-out dress-up corner, complete with a mirror and lots of dress-up options!  You could throw a few items that aren’t typically worn in a little basket and set it out, like I did. Or you could do something in between.  

Either way, just allowing your child to practice- especially when there isn’t a time restraint (i.e. Hurry up! We have to get in the car!) -is a truly great way for your child to gain these skills. 

How to teach a child to dress themselves? Praise them.

All good behavior in our house gets recognized with lots and lots of praise.  It’s quick, easy, and highly effective.  I’m not really into sticker charts or tangible rewards.  I hold them out as a last resort, and really never need to use them.  …at least not yet!

The first time my son strapped his shoes, I may have acted like he just finished a marathon.  It sounded something like this: “Wow!  You just did your own strap!  I’m so proud of you!  Sister, did you see him do his shoe strap?!  He did it all himself!  He can do it, just like you!  That is so wonderful!”  

This accomplishes a few things.  First of all, it’s a moment of joy.  Everyone in the room is now happy and smiling, and that’s always a good thing, right?  

Also, I stated exactly what the positive behavior was.  He knows it’s a positive thing that he did his own strap.  I also got his sister in on it.  She is always happy to cheer on her brother.  

I also included her in the compliment.  This is an important piece for her.  It allows her to feel like she’s the master of shoe-strapping. (That’s now a thing, if you didn’t know.)  

It also lets her know that I recognize that she is good at this particular skill as well.  It also avoids the, “I can do it, too!” feeling that likely would have followed had I not included her.  

Most importantly, all of this praise lets my son know that he did a good thing when he did his own shoe. 

He will be looking for this recognition as he continues to strap his own shoes over the next several days, and I am more than happy to give it to him.  I will gradually lessen my enthusiasm, but I will keep noting his success with the task.  

If a quick, “Good job, bud!” keeps him feeling confident and continuing to gain independence, then that’s an easy one for me!

Although my daughter is independent with most dressing tasks, I will give her praise periodically for these kinds of things.  Some mornings when I get her from her room, I say things like, “You did a great job getting dressed today!  It is impressive that you can do that all on your own!”  

If a particular shirt is a little difficult to get on, but she does it anyway, I will be sure to give her praise for that as well.  ”That was a tricky shirt!  Nice job!”  

These boosts of confidence allow her to be seen as a hard worker, and that is certainly what I want for my children.


You can totally teach your child the independent skills of dressing themselves!  Just remember to do it gradually, allow for lots of practice, and plenty of praise!


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how to teach a child to dress themselves

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