Encouraging Independence: Getting Dressed


Getting a toddler/preschooler dressed is normally less about the skill involved (although that certainly takes a lot of practice),and more about the battle of the wills…or at least this is the case in our house.


Last summer, Big Brother (2 1/2 at the time) decided he wanted to start choosing his own clothes. I resisted at first, intent on having him dressed in the cute outfits we bought him. And then I decided one morning the battle wasn’t worth it.  Why in the world does it matter if he wears mismatched clothes while we’re at home or even out to run a few errands???


Letting Big Brother choose his clothes on the days that it really doesn’t matter has made a huge difference in our mornings. Monday through Friday Big Brother basically gets to choose what he wants to wear (until school starts, that is). On Sundays, we choose. If he starts to throw a fit about it on Saturdays or Sundays, we calmly remind him that he has had lots of “turns” choosing his clothes and now it is Mommy and Daddy’s turn. This reasoning typically sits well with him.


In addition to limiting battles, letting your child choose his/her own clothing lets them gain a bit of independence. Handing over a little bit of “control” in this instance will help when the bigger issues crop up and is worthy of a waged battle (safety and respect issues, for instance).


As for the “how” to teach your child to dress themselves, this simply takes lots and lots of practice (just like teaching your child to use a spoon). Be patient…it will happen! Start with shorts (especially those with an elastic waist band), as they seem to be the easiest to put on if you show your child how to put leg in each “hole”, stand up, and pull the shorts to his/her waste. Big Brother just recently is able to put on his own shirt. It’s backwards 75% of the time…but who cares, right?


What tips or tricks do you have for teaching your child to dress him/herself?




  1. With my son, he had such a big head that he really couldn’t get shirts over his head. I had to cut them and put in velcro. Now that he’s grown into his head, I don’t have to do it anymore!

  2. My son is only 14 months old, so he’s not actually dressing himself yet, but for the past couple months, I’ll give him a choice between 2 shirts in the morning. This seems to make him happy because he gets to have some control, and I still get to make sure he looks cute. When he’s a little older, I’m planning on letting him pick all his clothes, since I really don’t care that much if he matches or not.

  3. The Big Brother of our family is 6 and actually started to help Little Brother get dressed. Little Brother always takes being told what to do better when it comes from Big Bro than from Mom and Dad. Then after a little time, Little Bro started to get the hang of it and tried picking out his clothes himself and doing most of the dressing as well. Also, I got over his not matching really quick, when I saw how much time it saved me. I have had the occasional odd look from people at his dress choices. I just turn it into praising and say what a great help it is now that he is making his own choices and dressing himself. That takes the sting our of all of it! :)

  4. I just started something new with my son (2 1/2). I bought three small baskets that fit in a cabinet in his dresser. Together we choose three outfits at a time (shirt, shorts, and underwear) and put each in a basket. That way I “approve” of his clothing choice, but he still feels like he has had say in what he is wearing. When it’s time to get dressed in the morning, I tell him to “pick a basket of clothes”, and he is able to get dressed all on his own. Every few days we refill the baskets so there are new choices waiting for him. So far this seems to be helping with the dawdling and power struggles we’ve had in the mornings. Let’s hope it continues!! :)

  5. I had a friend who bought her3 year old son only blue jean and khaki pants and shorts (no plaids or other colors) because pretty much any shirt will go with those 2 types of bottoms. This way he could pick a shirt and pants and pretty much always match. I thought this was a great solution at least for now, there will be a time when she’ll have to teach her son to match other types of clothing.

  6. I’m the complete opposite kind of mom! :-) I continue to choose my 5yr old’s clothing Sunday through Saturday. It’s always been this way and there are no battles. My son knows that this is the way things are done (I don’t believe in”choosing my battles” – Parents make the decisions and kids should be taught to obey – pretty old school, right?). It’s not because I want my son to look “perfect” and it’s not that he has all the brand name clothes, but I think looking “put together” is an important life lesson especially as he grows up. I know people say appearance isn’t important but let’s face it, someone who is “put together” will be given a different kind of respect than someone who isn’t…I teach this just as I teach the importance of being punctual. And as for giving my child more “independance” or teaching them to “make their own decisions”,…my question is why are we in such a hurry to have our children be independant or to have to make their own decisions? I want my children to be dependant on me and come to me when having to make decisions for as long as possible…I believe this will create an openess with my children and hopefully they’ll come to me/hubby when having to make important decisions as they get older – not for the actual decision making but definitely for guidance. Guidance is SO important. I want my children to stay children for as long as possible because before I know it they will be off and running and won’t need mommy or daddy anymore…I’m holding on to these childhood years for as long as possible. I just thought I’d add a different perspective on the topic :-)

    1. As I do hear what you r saying I have to add a comment. I believe it is important to teach children to rely on other people but I also know that life has many choices in them. If we do not teach our children to make choices when they are young they will always need that help. I personally do not want a 15 year old asking me, mommy what do I wear? Or having a 25 year old still not matching. I believe that children need to learn these things when they are young. I do not think that having your child make a few choices when they are young will affect thier dependance on you. children will always look to an older person for guidance no matter if you let them make choices or not. Pro 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it. I believe that this verse from the Bible not only is for training a child to follow God but also has practicle meaning for every day situations. I am not saying these things to make a battle with you but thought I would just state my opinion. God Bless.

      1. No battling here…I appreciate different perspectives. :-) I actually hope my 15 yr old asks me what to wear…have you seen what kids are wearing these days! HA HA!

  7. I wanted to add that I give my son 2 choices of what to wear, because he is only 3. and he usually does put them on backwards. which we will let him wear around the house but if we go somewhere I usually make him turn it around.

  8. Our preschool taught our son the coolest trick for getting his coat on all by himself…its called the “preschool flip.” The child lays their coat on the ground by their feet, tag closest to the toes – inside facing up. Then they reach down, put their arms in the arm holes, lift the coat up over their head…and voila…their coat is on! The next step after that is zipper practice!!

  9. We’re starting this process currently as part of transforming our home into a Montessori environment. Wish us luck! :-) One way I am hoping to avoid the clothing battles is to create a “My Clothes for the Day” basket that lays out his clothes. At first I will create the basket and then he can help me…and then, who knows, maybe he’ll lay out his clothes for himself! There is hope!

  10. I am at a far extreme. My children are 4 and 6 and by 2 I let them pick put their clothes. I have had them pick out some head turners. in the process, however, they learn that just because the stripes have red, and the polka dots have red, AND the plaid has red does not mean the outfit matches. By talking theough the odder choices, you can teach them to make better choices. Unless we are going to a special event, they are on their own, mismatched, princesses gowned, or backwards and all, regardless of whether we stay home, go out, or even go to school. By the middle of kindergarten it starts to work itself out.

  11. I also agree that when it comes to dressing, it’s usually not worth the battle. On the rare occasion that I do care about what they wear I hang it all on a hanger days before the special event, and hang it over the closet door. Each night it’s a quick reminder that “when we go to ____, you get to wear that special outfit!” So far that’s worked well. My 5 year old son only just started caring what he wears. I tell him whether it’ll be T-shirt or long-sleeve weather, but if he makes a different choice I figure it’s ok for him to learn that he gets hot in long sleeves and lined pants!! My 2 year old daughter has been letting her preferences be known since she was about 18 months. She picks her own underwear every single day, and most days at least one other article of clothing as well. Occasionally the outfit is just too weather inappropriate so we make some changes, but mostly she’s fine. My 9 year old picks her own, though I do have to remind her that tunics go with leggins, skirts and shirts need to be long enough, etc. If she repeatedly wears clothes that are inappropriate I remove the clothes from her dresser, explaining that it must still be too complicated for her to have those choices and that we’ll try again when she gets older. So far this has worked. I also talk a lot with her about honoring our bodies and dressing them appropriately. She unfortunately has had an adult break “the rules of touching” with her, so we work very hard with her on setting strong boundaries in that department. It gets confusing for kids after that happens. Her dress is much more appropriate now than it was before she joined her family, that’s for sure! She really loves picking out funky outfits and has developed a definite style.

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