At what age should kids start dressing themselves?

When my oldest child was 9 months old, he decided he hated clothing. At naptime and night, he would regularly strip out of all his clothes (diaper included) and hang out in the buff. Naked. Sans clothing. However, you want to describe it. He HATED clothes of any kind. Needless to say, we cleaned up A LOT of accidents the first year of his life :-/

I bring this up to say that if your kids are anything like mine, they were born with the ability to undress since birth. Getting undressed is a skill we rarely have to teach kids. Pulling off pants, taking off socks, and stripping out of pajamas seems to be a skill they are born with. Although, if your preschooler has one of their favorite Custom Photo Socks or pajamas that have their picture printed on as a superhero, they might not ever want to take it off! But when is the right time to start having our kids actually dress themselves? I know a lot of parents like to control what their child wears for the first few years of their life, although many tend to leave that responsibility to something like KidBox instead. KidBox is a subscription box service that sends different children’s clothing to you every month. If you are interested in a service like this, why not check out ReviewingThis for a review of KidBox that can give you much more information.

Skills Necessary to for Getting Dressed

First, let’s take a look at some physical skills necessary for dressing:

  • Fine motor dexterity for buttoning/zipping/etc.
  • Tall enough to reach their clothing safely.
  • Balancing skills to place legs into pant legs.
  • Coordination to place one arm/leg into a shirt/pants at a time.
  • Strength to pull clothing down over their head.

There are, of course, cognitive skills as well:

  • Ability to match colors/styles of clothes.
  • An understanding of sequencing (underwear goes on before pants).
  • Ability to think about the weather and determine appropriate clothing to match it.

Kids do not need to master each point above to start learning to self-dress. Those are the skills which will lead to MASTERY of self-dressing, but we don’t wait until kids are 10 to teach them to ride a bike, do we? No. We teach them when they are 4 or 5, and even before that we give then training wheels to start out. We understand they will fall. They will need our support. But they can do it when we have developmentally appropriate expectations and offer proper support. We can do a similar thing when it comes to clothing, though obviously, we aren’t going to put training wheels on them. One option is to get one of these onesies for your little ones to practice putting on. A onesie is a simple item of clothing that, as the name suggests, all comes in one piece. This makes it easy to manouvre into and is suitable to use from a young age. Look below to see more dressing skills broken down by age:

Dressing Skills by Age

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Here are some general guidelines that will help you establish some self-dressing skills by age:

a 1 Year old can practice:

  • Pushing their own arms and legs into shirts and pants
  • Placing a hat on their head

2 Year olds can practice:

  • Pulling up/pushing down pants
  • Pulling on slippers or sandals
  • Pulling on underwear

3 Year olds can practice:

  • Zipping, buttoning, snapping with some support
  • Choosing weather-appropriate clothing
  • Beginning to match colors/patterns
  • Pulling on shoes and boots (may need support matching to the correct foot).
  • Pulling on t-shirts
  • Pulling on Kids Socks (may need help placing heel/toe in correct positions)

4 Year olds can practice:

  • Matching shoes to the right foot
  • Orient clothing the right way (tags in the back)

5 Year olds can practice:

  • Tying shoes

Since my two boys share a bedroom, and there’s only space for one dresser, they have to share drawer space with one another (despite the fact that they wear different sizes), so we also had to teach our boys to read tags and know which clothes belonged to each of them.

Read this post on how to effectively organize dresser drawers (great for kids who share dressers, too!)

Now let’s get back to answering the question at the beginning of this post- at what age should kids start dressing themselves?

The answer is they can start practicing as early as a year old! They won’t actually master dressing skills until around age 5, but dressing is not a skill learned overnight. The key is to reduce frustration by providing age-appropriate tasks that they can master and build on until mastery occurs.

Some tips that might help reduce your frustration during the process:

  • If matching colors and patterns is causing frustration, stick to buying clothes that are easily matched (check for the best solid-color clothing choices!)
  • Have a step-stool in the room so your kids can reach their own drawers.
  • For the sake of safety, please make sure dressers are properly anchored to the wall.

What tips do you have for teaching kids to dress themselves? Let me know in the comments below!