Dressing Myself

Dressing is a complex skill that needs plenty of practice.

Dressing Myself

Learning to dress independently is an important life skill. It gives your child a sense of achievement to master a new skill.

First your child will be able to help you as you dress them. They will hold out a foot for you to put a sock on and push their arms through their sleeves. Next they will learn to undress. They will be able to take off socks, pyjamas and anything without fastenings.

Then they will learn to put on clothing without fastenings. Then they will be able to take off and put on their clothes with some help with fastenings. Finally they will manage fastenings by themselves.

General Hints and Tips

  • Involve your child in undressing and dressing. You can do this when they are babies. Talk about what you are doing. Name body parts. Sing songs about dressing. Follow the same routine. Your baby will get to know what is coming next. Be playful. Put their socks on your ears or on their hands. Let them make a choice about what to wear. "Do you want the blue t-shirt or do you want the red t-shirt?".
  • It is much easier for your child to learn how to undress. Let them practice taking clothes off first. Practice as part of your child's bedtime routine. Make sure to give you and your child plenty of time. Once they can undress you can work on dressing.
  • Loose-fitting clothing is easier to manage than tight fitting clothing. Start with pyjamas or clothes that are too big. Make it fun. Let them dress up in your clothes and you try to put their clothes on. Once your child can put on baggy clothes they can try tighter fitting clothing.
  • Make sure your child is in the right position for the task. Sitting on the floor, on a chair or on the bed can help. Your child will feel safe. They won't be wobbling around and will be able to use their hands.
  • Children learn in different ways so you might need to vary your approach. There are different ways you can help:

Physically assist your child.  Put your hands over your child's and help them to get dressed.

Show your child.  Put your clothes on at the same time as your child and show them what to do.

Tell your child.  Talk your child through the steps.

Try each of these ways to find what works for your child. Sometimes you might need to use more than one of these methods. Please remember that some children cannot look and listen at the same time. You are aiming to give the least amount of support needed. If you start by physically helping your child, work towards showing them what to do. Then work towards telling them what to do.

  • A good way to teach your child how to get dressed is to break down each task into small steps. You can teach them the last step first (this technique is called backward chaining). Once they can do the last step of the task, teach them the second last step, then the third last step and so on. You can find out more about this further down the page.
  • If your child is struggling it can be tempting to take over - don't! Give your child time to work it out for themselves. Give them lots of encouragement and hints if you need to. If needed, 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. 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. 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 superhero! Find more information about teaching the order of dressing in the information sheet. You can also 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 sometimes as they get frustrated. You can give your child a sense of achievement by using the backward chaining technique. Backward chaining is particularly useful when learning self-care skills like dressing. It can also be helpful when teaching younger children. It is also useful when someone is having 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 backwards from the goal. You complete all the steps except the last one. You get your child to practice the final step. Your child will enjoy the success that comes from completing a task. Once your child can do the last step you complete all 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! Keep going until you are teaching the first step and your child is completing all the other 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 zips and buttons.

Here are some tips to help:

  • Practice taking off their jacket 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. Make it into a game.
  • Your child needs lots of practice putting their arms into sleeves. So practice with shirts, cardigans, pyjama tops, etc.
  • If your child is struggling it can be tempting to take over - don't! Give your child time to work it out for themselves. Give them lots of encouragement and hints if you need to. If needed, talk them through what to do and only step in if they get really stuck. Make sure you have got plenty of time to practice.
  • Instead of correcting a mistake (e.g. twisted collar or hood) why not encourage your child to look in the mirror. Now get them to work out what's wrong. You may need to ask them some questions and give them some hints.
  • There are different ways you can put on your jacket. Try them all to see which way works for your child. Once you have found the way that suits your child share this with other people. Make sure nursery/school staff, grandparents, child minder etc. all help the same way.

Try these to find out what 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. It is particularly hard for children who have difficulties using both hands together.

Children learn to take their shoes off first. They 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

Zips are usually the first fastenings that children learn to do. Their first zip is usually on their jacket. Children will need help to put the zip together to start with. 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 one way to start teaching your child to zip. Get them to put the item of clothing on a table in front of them first. Use the backward chaining technique to teach them to do up the zip. Next, get them to put the item of clothing on. This is harder because they can't see what they are doing as easily.

For more information see the Zips Information Sheet.

Buttons

Buttons are a hard skill to learn. Both hands need to work together but make different movements.

  • Start by teaching unbuttoning first as it is easier.
  • Start with large buttons and work to smaller ones.
  • Make it fun and practice as part of play.  Dressing teddies and dolls. See the Button Information Sheet for ideas.
  • 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 are step by step videos with instructions on how to undo and do up buttons.

Buttonholes Positioned Top to Bottom 

Step by step video with instructions on how to undo and do up buttons where the buttonholes are positioned top to bottom.

Buttonholes Positioned Left to Right 

Step by step video with instructions on how to undo and do up buttons where the buttonholes are positioned left to right.

Shoelaces

Learning to tie shoelaces is hard. Learning to tie laces before you need to wear shoes that need to be tied is a good idea. Children don't usually have the skills they need to be able to tie their shoelaces until they are between five and seven.

Tips for young people:

  • There are lots of different ways to tie shoelaces. Watch different videos of how to tie shoelaces. Try the way that makes the most sense to you. If that is too tricky try something else. Keep going until you find the way that is right for you.
  • Make time to practice. Don't leave it until the last minute.
  • Sit down or kneel down. Sitting on a chair or a step might be easier. If you find this difficult, you could learn and practice with the shoe on a table in front of you. Once you find this easy, try with the shoe on your foot.
  • Ask for help if you need it. It can be hard to learn all the steps in one go. Have someone help you with most of the steps and you can learn the last one. Each time your helper will do a bit less for you.
  • To download this information click here.

 

Tips for adults:

  • There are lots of different ways to tie your shoelaces. The way you do it might not be the way your child finds easiest. If your way isn't working try another way. You will need to practice this first.
  • Backward chaining works well for teaching children and young people to tie their laces.
  • Make time to practice when you aren't rushing out the door.
  • Think about position. Get your child/young person to sit or kneel down. Sitting on a chair or step can make it easier.
  • To download this information click here.

One Loop Method

This video shows the One Loop Method.

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

New Modern Method

This new method is another way to tie your shoelaces. This method is good for right and left-handed people. 

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

Double Knot at Start

This video shows you how to stop the laces from becoming too loose when starting to tie a shoelace. It involves wrapping the lace around twice instead of once.

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

Double Knot at End

This video shows you how to stop the shoelace knot from 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

Ian's Shoelace Site is another good resource.  It shows lots of different ways to lace shoes, tie shoelaces and stop shoelaces from coming undone.

School Tie

As you move through school you might need to wear a school tie. You might just need a tie in school photographs or special occasions when you are at Primary School. Lots of secondary schools have a tie as part of the uniform and you might need to wear a school tie every day. It helps to be able to tie a tie by yourself so that changing for P.E. is not an issue. 

Use the videos below to learn how to tie your tie.

If you do find learning to tie your school tie difficult then there are other things you can try:

  • Use clip on or elastic ties.

  

  • Ask someone to tie your tie for you the first time. To take your tie off just loosen it and slip it over your head. Now you can slip it on over your head and tighten it up.
  • You might need some help with this strategy. Get someone to tie your tie as normal. Cut apart the back of the tie which would be under the collar. Sew Velcro onto both sides next to where you cut, like in the picture. Now you can use the Velcro fastening to put it on or take it off. 

 

Last reviewed July 2021.