Dressing Your Toddler - Article by Dr. Levy

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 10:22 PM | Claire (Administrator)

Parent Concern:

Dressing is a common concern of parent-child struggles and a source of frustration for both.

  • Many children enjoy some self-dressing by the age of two years. Many dress themselves by ages 4-5, but you cannot expect quick results.
  • Your child’s readiness for learning (and wanting to learn) to dress herself will depend on development, behaviour and mood. Keep in mind that the ability to undress usually precedes the ability to dress; so you want to help your child first learn how to undress.
  • Parents need to realize that independent dressing is a learning experience and that the child will make choices and mistakes. Your child may (a) refuse to dress; (b) insist on dressing herself; and (c) take off clothes when starting to dress or a combination of these.

Why is Dressing Difficult?

  • Freedom and independence are a part of growing up. As your child is growing from a dependent baby to a confident toddler who is ready to take on the world, she will naturally want as much control as possible over her life and will express a desire to dress herself.
  • Self-awareness is growing and she will have favourite outfits to wear by the age of 4-5.
  • When she knows you want her to do something urgently, she will resist the most.

What to Do


  • If you have enough time, let your child try to dress herself. Ask her if she needs any help.
  • If you have enough time, give your toddler plenty of time to do what she needs to do to get ready. You can pick out clothes ahead of time on the night before, if a particular outfit is the source of conflict. Wake her up earlier if you need to since toddlers do not respond well to being hurried.
  • Provide a selection of two outfits. This will empower your little one with choice and gives her a sense of control while allowing you to set your boundaries at the same time. This provides your toddler with independence and the chance to learn how to make appropriate choices. While offering two choices, say “you can wear either overalls or sweater and pants”.


  • If you do end up being in a rush, then you can explain your position: “Mommy needs to leave early today for a meeting” and then say “would you like help getting dressed just this morning?” This shows your child that she needs to get ready quickly (maybe she can dress herself another morning). Wake up earlier if you need to, since toddlers do not respond well to being hurried.


  • If your toddler takes off as soon as dressing time begins, then turn it into a peek-a-boo game. Put your face through his shirt to peak-a-boo or you can try to sing a song to get him in the mood of playing.
  • Make dressing a fun activity by playing games rather than running away. Power struggles usually dissolve with laughter.

D) Others

  • Do not express a bad attitude when it comes to dressing your toddler. Children may cry as a result of their parents’ behaviour.
  • Use tact; do not say that a shirt’s tag is on the front instead of the back when she puts it on for the first time.
  • Encourage team work. Allow your child to take over and let her participate in choosing outfits and getting dressed. Maybe she refuses to because she does not like the clothes you are picking out for her; let her choose (within reason).
    Make your child’s clothes accessible. Place clothes in the lower drawer so that she can reach and help herself to feel more independent. Place clothes in the higher drawers when clothes are inappropriate, so that they are not easily accessible.
  • Acknowledge sensitivity. Some children with sensory problems absolutely refuse some clothes; some get irritated over a scratchy tag. Hypersensitivity to labels, seams or socks are common. Luckily, this sensitivity is outgrown by age 6.
  • Do not let your struggles get to the point of anger. Sometimes, you just have to get her going and dressed; take charge before you lose your patience.

TIP: Practice Dressing
You can give your child some extra hands or experience by providing specifically designed dolls or fabric books that allow her to practice zipping, buttoning, snapping and tying.

Additional Parent Concerns
Any recommendations for clothing?

  • Since toddlers are incredibly active, use clothes that do not restrict movements or clothes that your child can easily get tangled in or trip during play.
  • Make sure her clothes are not too small or too big.
  • Comfort is important, so offer pants or jeans with elastics waists.
  • The easiest clothes to put on or off include t-shirts, track suits, dresses, and so forth.
  • Look for clothes with big buttons that are easy for your little one to grasp.

About Dr. Levy

Dr. Maurice Levy is a Pediatrician with 30 years of day-to-day medical experience in hospitals and a pediatric primary care office.  He is the Former Chief of Pediatrics and an active staff member at North York Branson Hospital,Toronto including multiple responsibilities on hospitalized newborns,infants and children and dealing with staff pediatricians along with a multitude of health problems to include nutrition, development and more. At Present Dr. Levy is Head of Research at the Pediatric department at North York General Hospital,Toronto.

Dr.Levy also  has an active pediatric and consultation practice in Toronto, there will be a book on Development and behavior on babies and children coming soon

For more toddler tips and information for the Dr. Levy's books can be found at www.babyandtoddlerhealth.com.


  • Sunday, March 21, 2010 5:44 AM | Monika
    I started allowing her to dress at night before bed.. yes she was more wrinkled, but she was very proud of herself and I was not late for work.
    Link  •  Reply

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