As with so many subjects relating to younger children, the subject of the age kids should start to dress themselves is open to debate and opinion.
Generally, many child development experts argue this should start sooner rather than later.
Theory versus practice
Some parents take pride in being able to say their child can already dress themselves at an early age. Other parents seem far more relaxed and are happy to keep dressing their children in full or part until they’re well into primary school.
Neither practice is right or wrong. Contrary to some myth, a child being able to dress themselves by an early age doesn’t necessarily mean they’re “advanced” and it may mean nothing in terms of their future performance at school.
It is though worth keeping in mind that children who seem unable to dress themselves may be teased by their classmates and friends who already can.
It’s actually very easy for parents and other care providers to slip into dressing their children in auto-pilot mode. When time is tight and everyday life pressures are high, finding the time to watch your child’s lengthy dressing ‘experiments’ isn’t easy.
However, there are good reasons why you should try – and perhaps from a surprisingly early age.
Development of motor skills and body control
Even from as early as six months, you might see your baby start to try and reach out for a piece of clothing as you go to put it on them.
Try to encourage that by showing that their arm can be put into the sleeve. You can do the same with their legs in leggings etc.
It won’t happen overnight but slowly you’ll see they’ll start to anticipate your guidance and try to do it themselves.
These are the first steps and they’re important ones. While your children are experimenting like this, they’re gaining greater control over their limbs and muscles, as well as becoming aware of special locations.
You may notice that around the same time, many babies develop what appears to be an irresistible urge to put everything they can onto their heads. That can also be made use of if you’re trying to get them to put on a hat.
All this is invaluable learning for them and it can be fun too!
Somewhere between the ages of 2-3, your child should be able to master increasingly complicated dressing tasks requiring more coordination.
It’s impossible to outline a firm age plan here because children will vary so much in their capabilities. You might also see a lot of difference in interest because kids are smart – some will think that if adults are doing this all for them, why should they bother!
However, they should be encouraged at every opportunity. You may sometimes need to be firm and say that they must do it but you’re there to help.
This is about helping them to gain confidence and independence.
Older parents will probably remember the days when shoelaces were virtually the only option. Learning how to tie them was almost a rite of passage, with parents often pushing their children to learn the technique at very early ages. Look back even 20 years in the literature and you’ll see experts saying children should be able to tie their own laces by the age of 5.
Today, the position is more complex.
The use of Velcro and slip-ons means many children just won’t have had the same exposure to (and therefore practice with) laces as their parents and grandparents.
So, today’s experts are more cautious and quote an age range. You may find your child lacks the fine motor control skills to tie their own laces much before the age of 4 or 5. Significant numbers of children are unable to master the task until they’re 8-9.
These differences are typically nothing to worry about.