Toddlers are eager to participate in activities that involve taking care of themselves, but sometimes when a child is unable to carry out a task successfully on their own, they can get frustrated and give up. This happens often with self-dressing, an everyday task which is actually quite complex for tiny hands. We followed a Montessori approach towards guiding our 2.5 year old twins’ in dressing independently. Here are a few tips on how we made the process relaxed, enjoyable and most importantly, child-led:
Set up a mini wardrobe, low drawer or basket with your toddler’s clothing. Having outfits within reach, is an invitation for your child to practice or simply explore and exploration is how they learn. During these moments you can observe how interested they are in actually learning to dress themselves. The process is easier when initiated by the child. Also, a low stool helps provide support as they practice with pants.
Offering 2-3 weather-appropriate choices empowers your child to make their own decision, express themselves and feel in control of a small part of their day. Be sure to provide options you’ll be happy with no matter what is chosen. Rejecting their choice can affect their self-esteem. Welcoming their choice shows that you respect their decision.
Model & Be their Guide
Guide them by doing only what is absolutely necessary in the moment to help them do it on their own. For example with pants, you might stretch the waist open, but allow them to try sticking their legs in and pulling up without your help. Also, don’t underestimate how much children learn simply by watching us. Let them see you get dressed too!
Allow your child to gain confidence in one article of clothing at a time before moving on to another. Also, consider these factors when choosing clothes for your toddler to practice with:
Shorts/Pants: loose or stretchy with an elastic waistband
Shirts: oversized, short-sleeves to start
Shoes: velcro straps to open & close
Socks: they can practice with yours first!
Whether it be in the morning, at bedtime or random points throughout the day, the skill of independent dressing requires time. It’s best to practice when your toddler shows interest in doing so and when you have no plans and will not be in a rush. Your child can feel relaxed and welcomed to try it over and over again and you can be fully present to guide the process. Repetition leads to mastery. Slow pace leads to success.
Allow the Struggle
It can be hard to watch our children struggle with tasks that we can so easily fix for them, but the struggle is how they learn! Inevitably, your child will put their arms or legs in the wrong place, but before jumping to the rescue, Montessori encourages us to wait. Wait until they show or tell us that they NEED our help. Children are more capable than we realize. They can figure out how to correct their mistakes, but these opportunities to problem-solve will only exist if we give them the chance to try.
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