We’ve all been there. You’re enjoying your morning cup of coffee thinking that it’s time to get your toddler dressed for school, when she proudly enters the room dressed from head to toe in every color of the rainbow and more patterns than you could have imagined. Your first instinct may be to say, “Oh no, honey. Those don’t match. Let’s go put on something different.” But before you do, consider what a huge accomplishment this is in Toddler Land.
Physically, being able to maneuver their legs through their underwear and pants and achieving the needed balance is a big hurdle. And it’s not as easy to tackle putting on a shirt when no one is there to hold it up for your arms to slide into! Having the gross motor skills to put on a full outfit really is a big deal.
Think about all of the decisions children make on their own while getting dressed. They decide to do it. Opening drawers and closets to pull out the underwear (hopefully), tops and bottoms, socks and shoes they want. They use their motor-planning and sequencing skills to decide the order in which to accomplish these tasks, as well as which leg to put in first and positions needed to get each item on. Before arriving downstairs in his bathing suit, backwards rain coat and sunglasses in February, your little one used some serious problem-solving and critical-thinking skills!
Anyone with a toddler knows that the theme of this stage is independence. As toddlers learn and grow, they increase their self-confidence and self-sufficiency with every success. Think about this from their perspective: YOU often struggle to get them dressed (yes, we know it’s because of the squirming and twisting and need to recapture them a few times before succeeding). But to them, they’ve just accomplished something that you even struggle with sometimes – ALL BY THEMSELVES! It’s very exciting!
When to Expect This Wonderful Phase
Before you start to see all colors of the rainbow on your child at once, you will likely begin to see them learning how to undress themselves first. Just like building a block tower versus knocking it down, undoing is easier than doing. You may see undressing begin as early as 18 months. While you could experience a short “nudist” phase when they learn they can take things off, they will begin to focus on putting everything on around age 2.5 to 3.
Help your child learn the process a little each day and offer simple clothing items like dresses, pull-on bottoms and t-shirts. Leave the buttons and zippers for a later date. And know that emotions and frustration can run high while they are learning. This is very normal and a little encouragement from you will make all the difference. It’s inevitable that you’ll experience that special toddler style of shoes on the wrong feet or a sweater on backwards at some point. Praise their efforts and gently ask if you can help them adjust the items. If your child protests too much and you aren’t going anywhere where it really matters, leave the issue alone.
For toddlers, being able to fully dress themselves is a huge accomplishment and major step in development. So just remember, on those days when your daughter has paired purple and pink paisley leggings with a lime green tutu and neon orange shirt that says she’s “too cool for school” — yeah, she really is.
At Sparkles!, we encourage and practice the fine and gross motor skills required for self-dressing and always encourage our developing toddlers to use their newfound independence. Ask your child’s teacher for ideas to help your child increase his or her self-dressing ability. We’re always here to support you!