You will spend a lot of time dressing your young child. It’s a lot easier to do if you don’t have to wrestle him through every step. Here’s how to get the job done efficiently so that you and your child enjoy it.
Plan ahead. Before buying children’s clothing, dress your child in your imagination. Choose easy-to-put-on clothing, at least one size ahead, with a minimum of buttons and snaps. Look for loose, stretchy neck holes that don’t catch on tender ears. Choose outfits that are easy to slip on a moving target.
Plant good dressing memories. How a child behaves during diapering sets the tone for her acceptance of dressing. Most children who enjoy dressing can be taught to cooperate with dressing by age one, to do some self-dressing by age two, and to dress themselves completely by age four.
Teach as you dress. Try these tricks:
- To promote cooperation, first connect at the child’s eye level either by dressing your child on a bed or counter or, more safely, kneeling on the floor. Look at her, talk and sing. To get into the spirit, play a dressing game: “We put our right foot in. We put our left foot in. We shake them all about.”
- Play the body parts game, an old stand-by to keep competing little hands busy: “Where’s daddy’s nose?” Keep the child entertained by theatrics as you breeze through dressing.
- Sometimes distraction techniques still the squirmer: For the two-year-old, keep special toys reserved just for dressing.
- Stand the older child near a window and let him enjoy the sights while you dress him.
- Sing a song about the proper sequence of dressing: (to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”) “First we put on our underwear, our underwear, our underwear.” Talk about what you’re doing. “Where is your underwear? Next we put on our socks…” Say the name of the clothing and show where it goes.
- If your three-year-old resists being dressed, capitalize on a developmental perk of this stage — a child’s love of imagination. Choose characters that both of you enjoy. Here’s how one mother turns entertainer and motivates her three-year-old child to get his clothes on: “I become Peter Pan. I talk like Peter Pan. And we talk about how Peter Pan needs to get dressed because he’s going on an exciting adventure and he has to have his pants on.”
- When a toddler knows you want to dress him, it’s a perfect chance for him to get you to play chase instead. If you have time for that, go ahead and indulge, with lots of giggling and tickling once he’s caught. If you don’t have time or you’re not in the mood, offer him another game instead — peek-a-boo. Hold the neck hole of the shirt up to your face and peek through it at him. Then he’ll come close and want to do “peek.” As you slide the shirt over his head, exclaim “peek-a-boo.” Then invite him to peek-a-boo his hands and feet. By two he’ll want “Me do it peek-a-boo.”
Model dressing. Lay out your child’s ensemble next to yours, and put your clothes on together, piece by piece. This speeds up the pokey dresser. Try a contest to see who can get all their clothes on first. Soon the novice dresser will be a whiz. For the beginning self-dresser (between ages three and four), help him along: “You put on your shirt and I’ll button it.”
Accept mismatches. Remember, a child between two and five fixes definite ideas in his mind and protests alternatives. A young child is not noted for his open mind. This is not being stubborn, this is developing a strong personal identity. If your child wants to wear an orange shirt and purple pants, let him, even if this violates your sense of taste. Or, lay out three outfits and let your child choose one. This is a smallie, not at all worth a hassle. As one mother put it, “If he dresses himself, he can wear what he pleases.” Of course, she saw to it that the clothes in her son’s drawers were appropriate for the season. Wait about ten years and your child will probably be dressing more stylish than you.
Give shopping choices. Around age four, children usually care what they wear. Take your children shopping with you and let them have some choice in what you buy: for example, two of five dresses, one of three pants, and so on.
There are times when parents know best. Here’s how a wise mother got her son properly dressed, respecting the child’s will without undermining her authority:
Our three-year-old is discovering that he has a will and opinion. My job and my desire is to validate his decision-making power. When our child exerts his own will and makes a choice that is different from our choice, my husband and I don’t look at it as a threat to our authority. Our child simply wants something different than we do. For example, my husband was getting our child dressed. Austin wanted to wear his brand new heavy sweater that he got for Christmas. It was about 80 degrees outside, and we were taking him to a sunny park. My husband explained that it was going to be hot, but Austin insisted on his sweater. After talking it over with him my husband said, “I have an idea. Let’s take the sweater, and that way if it gets cold you’ll have it to wear.” Austin thought that was a great idea. His decision-making power was validated. His idea to somehow have the sweater with him was good, and so he took the sweater with him to the park. We laid it on the bench in case it got cold. In this situation my husband could have just said, ‘No, you’re not wearing the sweater. I’m the boss. I’m the grown-up. I know what’s best for you. You’re not wearing that sweater on this hot day.’ But instead we accommodated Austin’s choice, and we arrived at an agreement that worked for both of us.