My daughter wants to dress herself. How do I handle this?

One of the first tasks most children try is getting dressed on their own. They feel proud and excited when they dress themselves, and they look to their parents for approval.

There’s no need to try convincing or teaching a young child to dress herself because most children express an interest in the activity on their own. First, a child will learn to take off her shoes, socks, and pants, since children are able to take their clothes off before they can put them on. By age three, she may want to do most of her own dressing (excluding snaps and buttons), although her clothes will often be inside out or backwards. By the time she’s four or five, she’ll be able to dress completely with little help.

When your child begins dressing herself, she may be frustrated by zippers, snaps, buttons, and shirts with small neck openings. Even though she can’t master these, she may insist on trying-a situation that often leads to anger and tantrums. You might want to avoid difficult clothes and buy pull-on pants and tops until she’s ready to use fasteners.

As she learns to dress herself, she may want to practice her new skills by changing her clothes several times a day, creating great piles of clothing to clean up or launder. She also may want to choose her own clothes, sometimes picking the same easy-to-put-on outfit over and over, or choosing clothes that don’t fit well, don’t match, or are inappropriate for the weather or the occasion. As long as you’re staying inside, there’s no need to make an issue out of how she looks. But at times when you want her to look nice, you may end up struggling over her choices.

You can eliminate some of the problem by laying out two outfits and letting her choose one to wear, or by putting in her drawers only those clothes that fit and are suitable for the season. Another possibility is to fill one drawer with a few sets of clothes that mix and match, letting her choose what to wear from these preselected outfits. These suggestions require time and energy, but the effort might be worth it if she’s determined to pick out her own clothes each day.

When you’re rushed, you may end up struggling with your child if she’s determined to dress herself. If you leave the house every morning, you may be able to avoid arguments by setting the alarm clock fifteen minutes early to give her time to dress. At other times, let her know that you are going to help with dressing because you’re rushed. If she has generally been allowed to dress herself, she may not resist your efforts. But if she does, try offering a distraction such as, “Let’s get dressed quickly so we can get some crackers.”

A surprising development may occur once your child has learned to dress herself efficiently: she may not want to do it anymore. She may say, “I can’t,” or “I don’t want to,” or, “You get me dressed.” Frequently, when a child has mastered a skill such as dressing, she loses interest and it becomes a chore rather than a challenge. You may feel that if you give in and dress her, you’re being manipulated. You may even try to force her to dress herself, although when children are forced, they often slow down and procrastinate. You have to decide whether this is an issue worth struggling over.

Compromise and flexibility seem most effective. If your child is tired, uninterested, or simply wants to be taken care of for a while, it’s all right to dress her yourself. At other times you may want to help her get dressed: “You do the shirt and I’ll put on your pants.” And when you want her to consistently dress herself, usually by the time she is five, let her know: “Before you come down for breakfast, I want you to get dressed.”

It’s best to avoid power struggles over getting dressed. In child development, steps forward are often followed by steps backward. Enjoy your child’s pride when she’s able to dress herself, and trust that by age five or six she will take on the job permanently.

Picture Credit : Google