Dressing Skills

By Christina Martinez MA, OTR/L

Learning how to dress/undress yourself is an important self-care skill that we all can learn. It might be hard to tell if your little one is ready to start learning how to become more independent in dressing because there are so many factors involved in dressing. Here are some tips to foster and support your toddler’s dressing skills:

  1. Start Simple:

Start with undressing, as it is typically easier than dressing.

  1. Provide Appropriate Environment:

Ensure the child is sitting in a stable position (ex. on the floor, sitting on a chair or firm bed with their feet supported). You can also have them dress in front of the mirror to provide visual cues.

  1. Break It Down:

Start by providing assistance for the beginning of the activity and then having the child finish the activity (ex. place shirt over head and assist with placing one arm through the hole, then verbally prompt the child to complete placing their other arm through the hole). As the child becomes more confident, you can slowly reduce the amount of assistance you provide.

  1. Offer Choices:

Encourage independence by providing two options for clothing. Offering them options empowers them and encourages decision-making skills.

  1. Practice Patience:

Expect some struggles along the way. Dressing requires coordination and fine motor skills that are still developing in toddlers. Focus on practicing dressing when you are not crunched for time. Offer plenty of encouragement and praise for their efforts, even if it takes a few tries to get it right.

  1. Turn It Into Play:

Make dressing a fun and engaging activity by incorporating games and songs. Singing a dressing song or having them practice dressing dolls can help with motivation and confidence.

In nurturing their dressing skills, we’re not just teaching toddlers how to put on clothes; we’re laying the groundwork for independence, confidence, and self-reliance. So, let’s embrace the occasional backward shirt or upside-down sock and celebrate each step towards our little ones dressing themselves with pride.

Here are the general milestones of dressing. However, it is important to remember that every child is different, and every child will learn at their own pace!

12-18 months ·         Can assist/cooperate with dressing (pushing arms through sleeves, legs through pants)

·         Begins to get undressed

·         Removes socks and shoes

24 months-30 months ·         Gets undressed mostly independently with help for fasteners

·         Helps pull up elastic waist pants

30-36 months ·         Tries to put on socks

·         Puts on a pullover shirt

3-4 years ·         Gets dressed and undressed with minimal help

·         Puts on shoes (may need help with left and right)

·         Pulls down pants

·         Zips and unzips

·         Buttons large buttons

·         Snaps

4-5 years ·         Buckles

·         Connect two-part separating jacket zipper and zips up

·         Puts on socks correctly

·         Puts on shoes with minimal assistance

5-7 years ·         Gets dressed and undressed mostly independently

·         Ties shoes


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