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Getting dressed and undressed is very much part of our everyday life. It can be quite a complex task and children need to master a number of skills to be successful. When children experience difficulties with motor skills, coordination, balance, fine motor skills and perception you may find that this will impact on their ability to dress themselves independently.

Before dressing, think about the fine motor and gross motor skills a child may need. Providing opportunities to develop these skills will definitely help when it comes to learning to dress and undress. Taking part in these activities can be fun and can also help to develop the necessary skills e.g balance, core stability, midline crossing, two handed skills and pincer grasp. 

Along with more general motor skill activity ideas, there are many activities which will help develop dressing skills.

Pre-dressing ideas

  • Playing dress up, who doesn't want to be a superhero for a day!
  • Dressing dolls, teddies or action figures
  • Putting oversized shirts or aprons on for messy play or cooking activities
  • Playing musical clothes - children put on as many layers of clothes as they can until the music stops
  • Playing Simon Says and reaching across all body parts
  • Using a button strip, button snake or unzipping and zipping the door on a play tent
  • Getting the child to help find and pair up everyone's missing socks!

General principles

  • Thinks about the child's position, they are likely to find the task easier if they are sitting on the floor or on a chair. This should reduce the need for them to balance and make it easier to reach their feet for putting on socks and placing trousers! 
  • Try to offer regular opportunities for practicing. School mornings can be busy so start at weekends or during school holidays
  • Undressing is often easier to start with, so ask them to take their clothes off before bed. Pyjamas are often easier to put on so this could be a good place to start
  • Think about where you are going to sit, in front or behind the child? This way you will be able to use consistent language and prompts to help guide them
  • If there is a mirror nearby, encourage the child to check if they have dressed correctly
  • Lay out their clothes in order before starting, if you always keep the clothes in the same place, the child should quickly learn what they need to get ready and where to get it from
  • Use looser fitting clothing first
  • Try clothes with logs or pictures on the front and socks with different coloured heels and toes
  • Remind the child that the label goes at the back
  • Some children may prefer to dress alone and 'surprise' you once they are finished
  • For those who need a bit more encouragement try using reward charts or use music; suggest they get dressed before the end of their favourite song 
  • Visual cues might be helpful and can be found online on the Do2Learn website

If your child struggles with a particular aspect of dressing, have a look at our advice sheets for additional advice. We have specific advice sheets for fastenings such as buttons and zips and shoelaces as well as for putting on coats, t-shirts and tops and socks.

There is also more information available for getting clothes the right way around and ideas for organisation and dressing. Don't put on too much pressure initially, praise goes a long way and if your child goes from being dressed by you to having a go themselves then we shouldn't worry too much about getting things perfect straight away. 

Online videos to help with dressing skills techniques:
Undressing skills for children
Teaching a child to put a coat on
Fastening a zip
Fastening buttons
Tying shoelaces