Dressing - Supporting Your Child's Development

Getting dressed is an important skill we do every day of our life. As adults, we may be able to do this activity without much thought about the complex skills we are using to do so. For a child, getting dressed requires them to utilize and master a number of skills including balance, coordination, motor planning, fine motor skills, sequencing, body awareness and more! A lot of the time, this task can be done in a bit of a rush to get the kids off to school, kindy or appointments and it can be easier at times to just do the task for them. Where possible, allow some extra time to support your child with this activity as it is a great opportunity to help children develop a variety of skills as well as increase their independence. Lets take a look at some of the skills children work on whilst dressing.

  1. Selecting clothes

Builds organization – what item of clothing do they need to put on first? Where are the items kept?

Discrimination and categorization of items – Some things you can ask your child to do is identify and group their clothing items. Is it a dress, t-shirt or pants? where do we wear your pants? Talk about how their clothes are kept. Are all their socks kept together?

Concepts – Talking to our children about the different features of their clothes helps to develop concepts such as long and short sleeves, do we pull our pants up or down? This is also a great opportunity to talk about the weather – Is it hot or cold today? What type of clothes keep us warm?

Sensory – The sensation of wearing certain types of clothes can be overwhelming for some children who experience sensory processing issues. Taking time to explore the textures of clothes can be helpful to identify clothing types the child likes/ dislikes. For example, look at whether a jumper is fluffy or smooth, soft or scratchy, thick or thin.

  1. Zips, buttons, clasps (the tricky stuff)

Fine Motor Skills – Practicing zips and buttons not only increases a child’s independence, but it is also practicing refined fine motor movements such as using a pincer grasp and finger isolation when holding buttons and zips, as well as developing finger strength pushing button clasps.

Bilateral integration (using both hands together) – This skill is practiced to steady a jacket whilst pulling a zipper, or threading a button through a hole. These skills are not only important for dressing, but for your child’s engagement in tasks such as cutting, drawing or using a knife and fork.

  1. Putting on pants

Balance – Whilst pulling on pants whether standing or sitting, the child is required to lift one leg at a time. This practices balance whilst also strengthening their core strength for trunk stability. You can prompt your child to squeeze their tummy muscles.

Crossing the midline (moving limbs past the imaginary vertical line down the center of our body) – When putting on pants, your child is shifting their arms past the midline to hold the pant opening close to the leg they are threading through. These skills are important for promoting your child’s coordination and the communication of the left and right sides of the brain.

  1. Putting on a t-shirt and jacket

Orientation – Before putting on a shirt or jacket, a child must orientate the shirt. Which is the front? Which is the back? Which hole does their head go through?

Planning and sequencing – These skills are being practiced as your child works out what to put on first, the t-shirt or the jacket? They must also sequence putting their head through before their arms.

  1. Socks and shoes

Concepts – This is a good opportunity to discuss left and right concepts, in particular helping your child to identify which shoe goes on which foot.

Fine motor skills – refined fine motor skills including finger isolation are being practiced when your child is tying their shoelaces. This task also requires sequencing to complete each stage of tying a shoelace in the correct order.

As you can see, there are a number of skills you can practice with your child whilst completing an essential daily task. As many of the steps involved in dressing can be challenging for children here are a few helpful strategies:

  • Start by working on one or two things at a time – this may be the child putting on their pants independently or selecting what tshirt they are going to wear.
  • ‘Backwards chaining’ can be helpful in supporting your child whilst giving them a sense of achievement. This involves doing most of the sequence for your child and allowing them to complete the last step. For example putting the zipper clasp together and allowing the child to pull the zip up, or putting their shirt over their head and arms, and allowing them to pull it down.
  • Practice on others –Practice tying shoelaces with the shoe off your foot. Dress up dollies and teddies, make it fun!

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