Your recently potty-trained child is very excited at their new found independence. She proudly declares, “I need to go potty!” and heads in the direction of the bathroom. You follow her, as all parents naturally do, to make sure she is all right on her own. Much to your dismay, she made it to the bathroom, but her overalls/tights/buttons have prevented her from removing her pants in time and she had an accident right there next to the toilet. So close!
Especially as new, first time parents, we want our children to look adorable in all the latest fashions available. What we often don’t realize is how many of the cutest clothes prohibit our children from becoming independent in dressing and undressing themselves. Here are a few tips to help your child dress themselves, creating a feeling of success and self-confidence.
I can do it myself! Make sure your child can put the clothes on by herself. Choose pants with elastic waists that she can pull up over her hips independently. It’s ok if they’re backwards! Avoid overalls, belts, and button flies. Even snaps on pants can prove to be a challenge for younger children. Stretchy leggings are better under a dress than tights (and they last longer, too). Can she remove them easily, especially when hurrying to the bathroom? Until she learns the skill, shirts she can pull on over her head are better than something that requires buttoning.
Forget the glass slipper. As much as our girls love fancy shoes, think practically. Your child should be able to put her shoes on by herself. Consider either slip on shoes or shoes with Velcro until she is starting to learn how to tie (around age 5). At this point, shoes with laces are actually ideal as they will provide your child with numerous opportunities for practice. Be patient with all the re-tying. If she’s not giving up, neither should you. Regardless of the type of closure, make sure your child is wearing sturdy, supportive shoes that are good for running and wearing on the playground.
I’m going to get dirty! It’s only natural – young children are drawn to dirt and water. No matter how much you remind them to stay clean or dry, they almost always come home in something different than what you sent them to school in that morning. So much learning takes place while exploring nature or experimenting with water. Save the fancy clothes, shoes and fur coats for home and special occasions.
There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices. When it comes time to bundle up for colder temps, it’s not time to pack a child’s independence away for the winter or keep him inside. Snow pants that are not overalls are ideal. Again, your child can pull them on independently. Have numerous pairs of the small, stretchy mittens on hand. Gloves, especially heavy ski gloves or mittens, are very difficult for a child to put on and make it difficult for him to use his hands once outside. And if you don’t want to lose those mittens, use mom’s old trick of attaching them to a string that goes through the sleeves. You might be surprised at how many single gloves end up in the lost and found!
I’m not a baby anymore! While parents like to get as much use out of clothing and accessories as possible, our children are growing rapidly. Dressing your child in clothes that no longer fit properly make it very difficult for him to be independent. Once a child is standing and walking around, it’s really time to retire the onesies. Otherwise, children cannot even begin to work on developing their dressing skills. And yes, two-year-olds can dress themselves! If your child has entered the toilet training phase, thick cotton underwear will speed along the process as your child will not feel comfortable in wet pants. Pull-ups can help them learn the process of pulling the pants up and down, so they may be helpful for the short term during the transition.
Embrace their inner sense of fashion! When your child is able to choose her own outfit, she might pair stripes with polka dots, or pick clashing colors. It obviously does not bother your child; in fact, she is quite proud of her ensemble. Let your child revel in that feeling rather than making her change into something that is more pleasing for you to look at. Being acknowledged and respected for her individuality is a great boost to her developing self-esteem.
So many choices, so little time. If you feel pinched for time getting your child dressed in the morning, limit her choices. While letting her dress herself is important, it is often difficult for a child to pick an outfit from her entire wardrobe. Give her two or three tops and bottoms to choose from. Making these choices before bedtime the night before can also help speed up that morning routine. Have a regular pair of shoes for wearing to school and a regular coat or jacket. Establish a routine and stick to it. Consistency is always the key.
So, take a look at your child’s wardrobe and ask yourself if it is promoting independence. And next time you shop for clothing think carefully about what you are purchasing; are you drawn to it because it is cute, or because it’s practical? You may be surprised by how much extra time you have in your day when you no longer need to help your child get dressed. It may be heart wrenching to let go of his reliance on you, but it is a huge milestone in the development of both his personal skills and self-confidence.
Carol Martorano, M.Ed., has been working in Montessori for 20 years as both a teacher and administrator. She is the parent of two teenagers who attended Montessori through the elementary years and is currently the Head of School at the Montessori School of Long Grove, in northwest suburban Chicago. She has her Montessori credentials in Elementary I and II, as well as administration. She earned her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and sits on the board of the Association of Illinois Montessori Schools.