By Renee Rynn
Occupational Therapist at Young Allied Health
Learning how to dress can be a very stressful experience for both children and parents. Shirts being inside out, heads getting caught, shoes on the wrong feet and don’t even mention buttons and zips! Don’t worry, you arenot alone! Every parent goes through this experience, over months and years, to support their little ones to develop their independence.
Here are some helpful tips to support the start of your child’s journey of learning to dress:
1. Don’t forget about undressing - Learning to undress is as important as learning to dress.
2. Play – What better way for a child to learn than through play! Keep it fun with silly dress ups, using mirrors or why not make up your own song and dance!
3. Key moments of support – When a little one is first learning to dress, prompting to “get arms ready” and “1 arm in” etc. helps them develop coordination skills to dress.
Bonus: it’s also building language and planning skills too! Helping a child to complete most of the task and then encouraging them to complete the last step is also a key strategy. It’s called “backward chaining”. As an example, you may help for all of the task of getting a t-shirt on- arms in hole, pull over head etc. but then encourage your child pull the shirt down over their stomach themselves. Once this is mastered, keep working backwards through the steps, encouraging them to do more as each step is mastered.
4. Start simple – Long and tight clothing is going to be more difficult to learn to dress in, opposed to singlets and elastic band shorts. Start with simple easy to manage clothing and then move up.
5. Pick your practice time wisely – Needless to say if everyone is rushing around to get to Kindy on time and we are trying to support a child to learn to dress, it may end in tears for everyone! Perhaps a different time of the day will work for your family to practice – maybe at bedtime getting dressed in pj’s. Whenever will work best for your family.
6. Get moving – Key skills for learning to dress are coordination, planning and proprioception (knowing where your body is in space). Big actions and movements help children develop these skills. Climbing on the playground, jumping on the trampoline, crawling, balancing, pushing and pulling etc. all will help your child develop these key skills.
7. Last but not least – Celebrate any success!