“Buddy! You CANNOT leave the house without pants, so…PLEEEEASE…put your pants on so we can go!”
“Sweetie, hurry up, get your coat on and zip it up, we’re running late, it’s time to GOOOOOO!”
“Ugh, you put your shoes on the wrong feet AGAIN? Let’s hurry up and fix them so we can get moving, you don’t want to trip and fall all over the place, do you???”
Stress you out?
If you’re like most parents, you’re probably wondering when your kid will be able to put on his or her own clothes without dragging you down into the never-ending ordeal known as “getting ready to go.”
WHY SELF-DRESSING SKILLS ARE IMPORTANT
Occupational Therapy professionals understand that dressing is a basic Activity of Daily Living (ADL). Being able to get dressed is a fundamental component to participation in daily life. Occupational Therapists know from experience that kids’ ability to dress themselves plays a big part in relieving family stress and improving family routines. This is true whether a child has a disability or not.
Occupational Therapists can help parents and children learn how to build skills and/or modify dressing tasks in order to help children be more successful and independent with this ADL. In fact, research has shown that, for parents of children with autism, improving independence in ADLs such as dressing, feeding, and personal hygiene are often priorities because they improve the child’s ability to live independently and reduce the need for one-on-one assistance at home and in the community.
Not only is it helpful when a child can dress him or herself, but it’s also beneficial to the child in many ways — they work on building up strength, range of motion, coordination, memory, sequencing, spatial awareness, and body awareness, as well as learn how to complete a daily activity that is important and meaningful to them.
I bet you never thought about how life-enhancing it is to be able to dress yourself every day, did you?
SO WHEN EXACTLY CAN KIDS LEARN TO DRESS THEMSELVES, ANYWAYS?
Below is a list of developmental milestones related to self-dressing skills. These are meant to be general guidelines for when these skills tend to typically emerge, and are not meant for you to be able to “diagnose” or “identify” whether your child has a developmental delay or not. There’s more to it than that. If you have concerns about your child’s development (including development of self-help skills), talk to the pediatrician and/or local occupational therapist.
Keep in mind that, in general, taking off or pulling down clothing tends to be easier than putting on or pulling up clothing.
You may be surprised at how early some of these skills are expected to emerge…yep, little kids really CAN do a lot for themselves when given appropriate opportunities, instruction, and expectations! So let’s give our kids a chance to develop some independence and give our sleepy selves a break!
By 12 months of age:
Cooperates with dressing by putting arm or leg out (for coat, shoe, etc.)
By 18 months of age:
Removes loose fitting hat
Places loose fitting hat on head
By 2 years of age:
Removes low-top shoes when laces or fasteners are undone
Zips large zipper after adult hooks it and holds base taut
Unbuttons large, flat buttons (1-inch wide, holes wider than buttons)
By 2 1/2 years of age:
Puts shoes on with assistance (needs help with correct feet, fasteners, etc.)
Pulls down pants, with assistance for fasteners and clearing hips
Undresses (jacket, shirt, pants, shoes, socks, underwear) with assistance for fasteners, pullover garments with narrow neck, and reminders regarding sequence
By 3 years of age:
Takes off front-opening clothing
Pulls up loose-fitting pants or shorts from floor to waist, with assistance for fasteners or clearing hips
Dresses self (hats, shoes, socks, pants, underwear, shirt, jacket, coat), with assistance for fasteners, laces, and identifying left/right and front/back (by 32 months of age)
Dresses self with supervision (pullover shirts, coats, dresses), requires assistance for correct foot, snaps, laces, buckles (32+ months)
By 3 1/2 years of age:
Independently pulls pants down from waist to feet
Buttons large buttons (1-inch wide, may not button in correct order)
Takes shoes off completely (undoes laces, Velcro, etc.), voluntarily or when asked
Puts shoes on correct feet (but doesn’t necessarily understand concept of left/right)
Unzips and unsnaps clothing
Puts hands through both armholes of front-opening clothing (e.g., coat, button-down shirt)
Pushes arm into second sleeve of front-open clothing and then pulls clothing to shoulders (e.g., jacket)
Removes pull-over clothing from both arms and attempts to pull over head
By 4 years of age:
Takes off pull-over clothing completely, may need some assistance
Takes off front-opening clothing completely
Puts on pull-over shirt in correct front/back position
Puts sock on all the way
By 4 1/2 years of age:
Buttons front-opening clothing (e.g., button-down shirt)
Puts on weather-appropriate clothing without prompting (e.g., puts on coat if cold outside)
Tightens shoelaces by pulling up or out
By 5 years of age:
Places jacket or coat on designated hook or place
Undresses daily at designated times without reminders
By 5 1/2 years of age:
Dresses independently when asked
Tucks in shirt
By 6 years of age:
Ties shoes, following step-by-step demonstration/support
Independently zips up front-opening clothing (hooks zipper base, holds tab, pulls up)
Puts on activity-appropriate clothing without prompting (based on activity or setting)
Selects clean clothing and changes underclothes regularly
Places front-opening garment on hanger, fastens it, and hangs it up
By 6 1/2 years of age:
Puts laces in shoes and laces correctly (using alternating eyelets)
Turns clothing right side out (takes bottom of item and pulls it through neck area, or fixes front-opening garment by turning inside out and then straightening it)
SO THE ANSWER IS…
Given appropriate opportunities, instructions, and expectations, kids should be able to independently dress themselves around Kindergarten age.
While that doesn’t mean they won’t need help here and there for tricky shoes or stubborn zippers, they should be able to meet most of their basic self-dressing needs by this age.
TIPS TO HELP KIDS LEARN TO DRESS THEMSELVES
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, addressing self-care skills (and specifically self-dressing) is a HUGE part of what we do as pediatric Occupational Therapists.
Some colleagues of mine have put together some helpful info for you to learn more about all the factors that go into dressing success, and how pediatric therapists can help kids who struggle with learning how to dress themselves.
This is Month Four of our monthly “Functional Skills for Kids” series, so check ’em out!
When Can Kids Dress Themselves? | Mama OT
Gross Motor Skills and Independent Dressing | Your Therapy Source
Sensory Considerations for Dressing! | Your Kids OT
“Get Dressed!” How to Modify Your Child’s Dressing Routine | MissJaimeOT
Teaching Kids How to Dress Themselves: Activities to Extend Skills | The Inspired Treehouse
Improving Following Directions with Getting Dressed | Growing Hands-On Kids
Visual Perceptual Skills in Dressing | Kids Play Space
How to Work on Dressing Skills Through Play Activities | Therapy Fun Zone
Shepherd, J. (2005). Activities of daily living and adaptations for independent living. In J. Case-Smith (Ed.), Occupational therapy for children (5th ed.). St Louis: Elsevier, Inc.
Teaford, P., Wheat, J., Baker, J. (Eds). (2010). HELP 3-6 Assessment Strands [Curriculum Based Assessment, 2nd Edition]. Palo Alto, CA: VORT Corporation.
Warshaw, S. (2007). HELP strands 0-3 [Curriculum Based Assessment]. Palo Alto, CA: VORT Corporation.
Weaver, L. (2015). Effectiveness of Work, Activities of Daily Living, Education, and Sleep Interventions for People With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A systematic review. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69(5), 1-11.