Dressing is an important step towards toddler independence.

How to Teach Your Toddler to Get Dressed

by Shellie Braeuner

Getting dressed is a simple, important skill that can help your child become independent. Young toddlers don’t have the cognitive ability or coordination to get dressed completely by themselves. However, at around one year of age, your toddler should be able to follow a simple direction such as, “Put your arms in the sleeves.” As your child grows, he will be able to master more skills. By the time he’s 3, he should be able to dress himself with little more than supervision.

Start by choosing the right clothes for learning. Stay away from anything that has tiny buttons, zippers or buckles. Instead, choose loose-fitting pants or shorts with an elasticized waist. Add a T-shirt or knit cotton blouse. Choose comfortable socks and shoes with hook and loop closures.

Make sure that both the top and the pants have a tag in the back. If they do not, sew a small ribbon or iron a small patch into the back of the clothing. This makes it clear to the child where the back of the clothing is located.

Start with one piece of clothing at a time. Continue to practice with the same item every day until your child has mastered dressing herself with the item.

Teach the child the last step first. Once she has mastered the last step of each piece of clothing, move on to the second to the last step and so on until she can put on the item alone.

Seat your child on the floor and put his legs into his pants, pointing out the tag in the back. Stand him up and ask him to pull the pants to his waist. The next time he puts on pants, put one leg in a leg hole and ask him to do the other. Help him to stand and ask him to pull them up. Continue until he grabs the pants by the front of the waist, puts both legs in the holes, stands and pulls up his pants. Repeat until he can put on his own pants without reminders.

Put the shirt over her head and help her put one arm in the sleeve. Ask her to put the second arm through the sleeve. The next time, put the shirt on her head and ask her to put both arms through the sleeves. Finally ask her to stick her head though the neck and push both arms into the sleeves. Continue to practice until she can do it herself.

Show the child the heel of the sock. Hold the sock so that the heel is in the back. Slide the child’s foot into the sock. Hold the second sock for your child and ask him to push his foot into the sock.

Seat the child. Show the child that the hook and loop closures open to the outside of the foot. Help him slide his foot into the shoe and let him press the hook and loop closure closed. Hand him the second shoe and let him put it on by himself.

Items you will need

  • Elastic pants
  • Stretch shirts
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Stickers


  • Young children often find the idea of right and left shoes confusing, so consider putting colored stickers on the toe of each shoe: red for right and blue for left.

About the Author

Based in Nashville, Shellie Braeuner has been writing articles since 1986 on topics including child rearing, entertainment, politics and home improvement. Her work has appeared in "The Tennessean" and "Borderlines" as well as a book from Simon & Schuster. Braeuner holds a Master of Education in developmental counseling from Vanderbilt University.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images