Dressing Myself

Dressing is a complex skill that needs plenty of practice.

Dressing Myself

Learning to dress independently is an important life skill.  Not only does it give the child a sense of achievement to master a new skill but also gives the parent precious few minutes first thing in the morning!

By one year your child should be able to help you as you dress them by pushing their arms and legs through items of clothing. By 2 years they should be able to remove an unfastened jacket.

By 2 ½ years they can put on easy clothing such as a jacket or open front shirts without zipping/buttoning.

By the age of 3 they should be able to assist with zipping and unzipping and separating the zip at the bottom of a jacket. Between the ages of 3-4 your child should be able to put their hands through both armholes and down the sleeves in front opening clothing (e.g. jacket). They should also be able to take the same item off completely.

By 4 years old children should be able to get their clothes on and off independently but will not be able to manage fastenings (e.g. zips and buttons) for another year or two.

General Hints and Tips

  • Involve your child in the un/dressing process as early as possible.
  • It is much easier for your child to learn how to undress before dressing. Therefore practice taking clothes off first.
  • Loose-fitting clothing is easier to manage than tight fitting clothing. Start with pyjamas or clothes that are too big. Try tighter fitting clothing once your child is confident putting on loose fitting clothing.
  • Ensure your child is in the right position for the task at hand. Sitting on the floor, on a chair or on the bed can help. Your child will feel well supported and be able to use their hands freely.
  • Children learn in different ways so you might need to vary your approach. There are a number of ways in which you can help;

Physically assist your child (Use the hand-over-hand technique, take your child’s hand  down to their sock, let them grasp the sock then put your hand over theirs while you pull the sock off).

Show your child – do the task alongside your child.

Tell your child – talk your child through each step of the process.

You can use each of these ways individually or any combination depending on what suits your child. Please be aware that some children cannot look and listen at the same time so limit the amount of information you give.

  • A good way to teach your child how to get dressed is to break down each task into small steps and teach him the last step first. This technique is called backward chaining (more information is available see below). Once they can do the last step of the task, teach them the second-last step, then the third-last step and so on.
  • If your child is struggling it can be tempting to take over - don't! Give your child time to work it out for themselves and give loads of encouragement. If necessary, talk them through what to do and only step in if they get really stuck. It is often better to practice these things when you are not in a rush so weekend mornings are better than when you are rushing out to nursery/school/work.
  • Instead of automatically correcting a mistake (e.g. twisted collar or button incorrectly matched) why not encourage your child to look in the mirror and get them to find out what's wrong. You may need to ask them some questions to help them work it out.
  • Take your time and be consistent. Learning a new skill takes time so persevere with giving support until you feel that your child is making progress.
  • Practice, practice, practice! Give your child opportunities for practice every day.

Order of Dressing

All children need to learn what order to put their clothes on in.  They need to know that their pants go on before their trousers, unless they want to dress up as a super hero!  You can find more information about teaching the order of dressing in the information sheet and download some visual aids for the morning routine.

Downloadable morning routine sequence cards for you to print off and use.

Backward Chaining

When teaching a new skill we often start at the beginning.  This can be challenging for children who are struggling to master a skill.  One way of learning a new task while giving your child a sense of achievement is to use the backward chaining technique.  Backward chaining has been found to be particularly useful when learning self-care skills.  It can also be helpful when teaching younger children and those who have difficulty learning new skills.

So what is backward chaining?  You start by breaking the task down into small steps.  You teach your child the last step first, working backward from the goal.  You complete all of the steps except the last one and have your child practice the final step.  Your child will enjoy the success that comes from completing a task.  Once your child has mastered the last step you complete all of the steps except for the last two.  You teach your child the second from last step and they then complete the last step themselves.  Even more success!  You continue like this until you are teaching the first step and your child is completing all the other steps.

This is a particularly useful technique to use when teaching a child how to get dressed or undressed. This technique can also be helpful for teaching any task that has a number of steps.

For More Information

Putting Clothes on the Right Way Round

Putting clothes on the right way round is tricky. Most children still put their clothes on back to front sometimes when they start school. Some children can find this challenging as they move through school. As with all dressing skills it is best to start teaching this skill as soon as you can.

Putting On and Taking Off a Jacket

By 2 years your child should be able to take off their unfastened jacket. Between the ages of 3 and 4 your child should be able to put their jacket on although they may not manage the fastenings.


Here are some tips to help:

  • Practice taking your jacket off first – it’s easier!
  • Start with a jacket that is a bit too big, loose-fitting clothing is easier to manage than tight fitting clothing. Let them practice putting on your jacket.
  • If your child is struggling it can be tempting to take over – don’t! Allow them to learn for themselves. Make sure you have got plenty of time to practice, not when you are rushing out to nursery.
  • Instead of automatically fixing a twisted collar or hood, encourage your child to look in the mirror and work out what's wrong. See if they can fix it themselves.


There are different ways of putting on your jacket, try these to find out which one works for your child:


Socks and Shoes

Babies love to take their socks off they can usually manage this by themselves by the time they are 15 months old. 

Putting on socks is a skill that children can often find challenging particularly for those children who experience difficulties in using both of their hands together to complete a task.

Children learn to take their shoes off first and can usually pull on wellies, slippers and slip on shoes by the time they are 2 years old.



For More Information

Here is a video from our OT colleagues in NHS Forth Valley for helping children put on their socks.

Planning Your Child's Nursery Wardrobe

Advice on what to look for and what to avoid when planning your child's nursery wardrobe.


Zips are usually the first fastenings that children learn to do.  This is usually on their jacket and they always require help to put the zip together initially.  Children should be able to pull up a zip once the adult has put the pin into the box by the age of 3.

This short video shows the best way to start teaching your child to zip by placing the item of clothing on a table in front of them first.  Then once they have mastered all the steps they can place the item of clothing on their person and follow the same steps.

For more information see the Zips Information Sheet.

Zips from KIDS Scotland on Vimeo.


Buttons are a hard skill to master as it involves both hands working together but making slightly different movements.  Your child will not have the skills needed to be able to do this until the age of 4.

Start by teaching unbuttoning first as it is easier.  Make sure to start with large buttons and work to smaller ones.  Practising as part of play can help too, see the Button Programme and Activity Information Sheet for ideas.  You can also practice by dressing teddies and dolls.  It is easier to practice with the clothes lying flat on a table so your child can see what they are doing.  Once they have mastered unbuttoning move on to buttoning.  Finally get your child to put the clothes on and undo and do up the buttons this way.

Below is step by step videos with instructions on how to do up and how to undo buttons which run in a vertical (top to bottom) or horizontal (side to side) direction.

Buttonholes in a Vertical Direction 

Step by step video with instructions on how to do up and how to undo buttons which run in a vertical (top to bottom) direction.

Buttonholes in a Horizontal Direction 

Step by step video with instructions on how to do up and how to undo buttons which run in a horizontal (left to right) direction.

Shoelace Tying

Tying your own shoelaces requires a level of dexterity (using both hands together) most children don't possess until they're between five and seven, so take it slow!

One Loop Traditional Method

One Loop Method for Shoelacing from KIDS Scotland on Vimeo.

This video shows the One Loop Method that most adults use.

Click here to access Step by Step (Photograph) Guide for One Loop Method

New Modern Method for Shoelaces

New Modern Method for Shoelacing from KIDS Scotland on Vimeo.

This new method is another way to tie your shoelaces. This method is good for right and left handed people. Before teaching your child this new modern method we would recommend you take time to practice on your own. Being confident in the method yourself will reduce any anxiety and confusion when teaching your child.

Click here to access Step by Step (Photograph) Guide for New Method

Initial Knot

Alternative Knot Method for Shoelacing from KIDS Scotland on Vimeo.

This video shows your child an alternative technique to create the initial knot.

Click here to access Step by Step (Photograph) Guide for Initial Knot

Hint to Ensure Initial Knot is Secure

Double Secure Knot at Start from KIDS Scotland on Vimeo.

This technique helps to stop the laces becoming too loose when starting to tie a shoelace. It involves wrapping the lace round twice instead of once.

Double Knot at End of Shoe Lacing

Double Secure Knot at End from KIDS Scotland on Vimeo.

This technique helps to stop the shoelace knot falling out. It involves knotting the two loops at the end.

Click here to access Step by Step (Photograph) Guide for Double Knotting at the End


For more Information



Another good resource for learning different methods to lace shoes, tie shoelaces and stop shoelaces from coming undone is Ian's Shoelace Site.

School Tie Tying

The further up the school your child progresses the more likely they are to require to wear a school tie.  During primary school this may only be needed for school photographs or special occasions but by secondary it is normally expected that children wear a school tie everyday.  It is important to be able to tie a tie independently so that changing for P.E. is not an issue.