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Teaching Kids To Dress Themselves

  • Coats, Sweaters and Sweatshirts

    Difficulty Rating: 1 out of 3

    Go Big: Buy a slightly larger coat so your child can step into and shrug out of it without completely unzipping it. He'll rarely need to connect the zipper on his own (which is a much harder skill). Dress Teddy: Have your child put a loose sweater on a stuffed animal before he tries it on himself. It's easier for him to understand the steps on a body other than his own.

    Do the overhead flip: Place the open coat or sweater faceup on the floor in front of your child. The neck or hood should be nearest to his body. Have him kneel down, put his arms through the sleeves, and then stand up and raise them toward the ceiling. This will flip the coat over his head onto his back. Voila!

  • Bottoms

    What she can do:
    Pull on pants

    What she can't do:
    Tricky button-and-zipper combos

    What to expect:
    Open flies; the occasional one-leg-in, one-leg-out tumble

    How to help:
    Elastic waistbands! Avoid button flies.

    Tip: Kids can't balance well enough to put on pants/shorts while standing. (Come to think of it, neither can many adults!) And beds are often too high for them to sit on. So have your child perch on a low step, chair, or stool. For pants, coach him to insert one leg and push through so his foot lands directly on the floor (not on the fabric). Have him pull the material just past his knee and repeat with his second leg, then stand up and pull everything up over his backside.

  • Tops

    What she can do:
    Pull one over her head

    What she can't do:
    Fitted or hooded shirts, turtlenecks

    What to expect:
    Backward or inside-out tops

    How to help:
    Pick roomy shirts with ample armholes and designs on the front.

  • Socks and Tights

    Difficulty Rating, Socks: 1 out of 3

    Difficulty Rating, Tights: 3 out of 3

    Use color: Socks with well-shaped, colored heels help kids position them right. Let her get the sock fully on her foot (either by grabbing the opening with both hands or by "scrunching" the material down to the toe and pulling on), then help her twist it into position. Coach her: "Your heel goes where the gray color is!"

    Think hard about tights: They're adorable with dresses but murder for little girls (and their often-frustrated moms) to get on. If you can, choose tights made of heavier sweater material (rather than thin nylon), as it's easier for little hands to grip and pull. And trim your daughter's toenails so ragged edges don't snag. As with pants, your child should sit on a stool or step, scrunch up the fabric, then put one leg in, pull up just over the knee, and switch to the other leg. When both are in, pull 'em up!

  • Shoes

    What she can do:
    Put them on her feet

    What she can't do:
    Anything involving laces or ties

    What to expect:
    Undone or snarled laces, shoes on the wrong feet

    How to help:
    Look for slip-ons or Velcro closures.

    To teach tying laces:

    Tie one on: Have kids try out their skills on a practice shoe-like an old sneaker-at first. Put two different-color laces on it to simplify your instructions: "Cross the red lace over the blue one..."

    Start with bunny ears: Have him make loops in each shoelace, cross them in an "X," tuck one through the hole, and tighten. As a memory aid, say aloud: "Make two bunny ears. The bunny runs around the tree. The bunny jumps in a hole. Close it up tight!"

    Move on to single loop: Tell your child to start by making an "X" with the laces, tucking one lace through, and pulling it tight. Then teach him this memory aid: "Loop it" (have him make a loop with his right hand), "swoop it" (left hand pulls lace around the loop), "and pull!" (tuck left lace into the hole and pull it through). Victory!

  • Zippers

    What she can do:
    Finish zipping

    What she can't do:
    Start zipping

    What to expect:
    Pinched fingers, jammed zippers

    How to help:
    Again, get it started for her. Look for large, plastic zippers that are easy to maneuver.

  • Belts

    What she can do:
    Easy buckles

    What she can't do:
    Thread through the loops, fasten complicated buckles.

    What to expect:
    Missed belt loops

    How to help:
    Let her thread the first and last loop and finish the buckling, too.

  • Buttons

    What she can do:
    Large buttons

    What she can't do:
    Small buttons

    What to expect:
    Buttons in the wrong holes

    How to help:
    Do the first button and let her finish up. Pick tops with just a few (oversize) buttons

    Tip: Show him how to hold the button with the index finger and thumb of one hand, then push it through the hole and grab it on the other side with his other one. It's easiest for kids if they have both of their mitts touching the button during this "handoff." Then he'll pull the button through and lift its edge over the buttonhole to secure it in place.

  • Snaps

    These fasteners are very difficult because it takes strength to connect them. Also, kids have to precisely align two quite small pieces -- one of which is hidden under fabric. A doll whose clothes button, snap, and zip can give your child practice-but this is probably the last fastener he'll master.

    Difficulty Rating: 3 out of 3

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