You may have seen a quote from time to time in your classroom’s Weekly Update by Maria Montessori, “Never help a child with a task at which he can succeed.” We have this quote in our tour folder, too. It’s the hallmark of Montessori, to teach children how to act independently as much as possible, to show them how to succeed with what they can control. Independent dressing is a way we can cultivate this task.
You may also have thought how hard that can be in practice as you try to get your toddler dressed every morning. 😉 Moms and Dads, we have ALL been there. So for those of you who are struggling with this at home (and if you’re not, don’t worry, your time will come ;), here are some tips and the reason why it can go south, plus what you can do to create a real world environment in your child’s bedroom where they dress themselves!
Why is independent dressing so important?
Allowing and encouraging children to dress themselves without adult help boosts their self-perception, strengthens gross and fine motor control, and even helps with spatial reasoning… and, with consistency and practice, it can make busy mornings go much more smoothly! It also saves inevitable meltdowns. If that doesn’t sway you, how about the time you save in the mornings as you try to get to get out the door (and get in an unhurried extra cup of joe because you arrived to work early)? Yes, my friends. Miracles do exist!
Okay, I’m in! Where do I start with independent dressing?
- Offer limited choices: Most children can’t handle all the options available in their wardrobe, so select them in advance, then offer two of everything: two tops, two bottoms, two underwear, two socks and two pairs of shoes and even two jackets if you have more than one. I don’t know about you, but my son was growing so fast that he outgrew his shoes and jackets within six months, so he only ever had one pair of those. Feel free to pare down your child’s closet to make these decisions easier!
- Minimize frustration: To give your child the the easiest time physically, put out oversize t-shirts and bottoms with elastic waist pants. Velcro is on most children’s shoes for a reason, so don’t bypass them for something with laces. Save buttons, zippers, and snaps until your child is ready for the challenge.
- Furniture: Your child may not need a chair or stool to sit on to put their pants or shoes on, but it sure hurries up the process by making it easier. I also recommend shutting the closet door when you offer clothing choices to your child. Putting them on a small table or in a basket helps your child to see this is a special task they are doing. You can buy an inexpensive child-sized table and chair combo at IKEA, for example.
- Break down the task: So far, it’s working! Your child picked out their clothes, is getting dressed…and then starts to have a meltdown. Think about all the steps it takes for you to put on a pair of pants, and keep this in mind when guiding your child to do the same. At first, she may need you to help her balance, scrunch up a pant leg, or start a zipper. But remember, ONLY help your child with what they cannot do themselves, so if the only issue is getting the zipper up, then only help with that part.
- Allow plenty of time: When children are just learning a new skill, they need lots of practice before they can do it efficiently. If you’re running behind one morning, expecting your child to get dressed quickly may not be realistic. This part can be frustrating when you’re trying to get to work, so plan ahead and start this new routine on the weekend. Source
- Stay CONSISTENT: Do not deviate from your routine. Not on weekends, not when your child is screaming so loud that you’re positive the next neighborhood over can hear him, not when it’s quicker to just do it yourself…stay on course! Children can only control themselves when they know you have boundaries. And boundaries are consistent.
>>Pro Parenting Tip When your child picks what to wear the night before, do it just before bath time. They will be fed (dinner is over) by this point and excited to take a bath, both of which work in your favor. They won’t be irritable due to hunger and also won’t want to dilly dally, pink soap and blue submarines are imminent!
Children are wonderful and capable creatures. When we respect their abilities, they’ll exceed our expectations again and again. As parents, it should be our goal to raise children who can take care of themselves and of course, this starts when they are itty-bitty. As your child gets better with time at choosing clothes and putting them on, you can start to introduce more exciting wardrobe options as a perk of their hard-earned success at dressing independently. As Mathew Jacobson once said, “Behind every young child who believes in themselves is a parent who believed FIRST.” Helping your child become independent is one way we show them we love them, so once you and your child get the hang of this, start looking around the house and your routines to see what else you can do to encourage your child’s independence!