Helping Your Child Learn to Dress Themselves: 13 Milestones to Track

A young girl in a pretty dress, learning to dress herself. Empower your child's independence with this helpful guide!

There are many reasons to be proud of your little one, including the precious milestones in their growth and development. Dressing milestones are especially rewarding as your child gains new skills and becomes more independent. Gerber® Childrenswear has you covered if you’re curious about how to encourage your child. Of course, comfortable and quality baby clothing helps kids learn how to dress! From soft baby boy socks to brightly-colored toddler girl shirts, adorable clothing and cute accessories will make each discovery more fun. 

Dressing Milestones to Track with Your Child 

When you visit your child’s pediatrician for a checkup, they’ll share a list of age-appropriate developmental milestones. In addition, the doctor may ask questions about your toddler’s movement and physical development. Every child is different in their interest in dressing and putting on clothes. However, some babies may remove clothing as early as one year old. Don’t worry if your child is disinterested in dressing or needs encouragement, that’s not uncommon. There are many ways that parents can inspire their sons or daughters to explore their clothing and learn dressing skills.

Experiment with age-appropriate activities! Soft clothing and cute accessories will make dressing and trying on clothing more exciting. For example, a colorful pair of printed training pants for boys or a flowing, flowery toddler girl dress may be all you need to stimulate new interest in getting dressed. 

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1-Year-Old Dressing Milestones

Some 1-year-old babies will begin to show interest in removing their clothes. While it’s a big first step, it’s also a cute activity! Parents can encourage their child’s dressing development by shopping for fun garments and accessories. For example, children may like to play with striped socks or a loose hat with a friendly animal print. Some of the most common dressing milestones to track at this age include: 

1. Removing Socks 

By age 1, babies may begin to remove their socks for fun. While losing socks can be frustrating, this is an important milestone for your little one! If Gerber® Childrenswear Wiggle Proof® socks don’t come off during practice time, parents can switch to standard cotton baby socks. Socks are so cute at this age! Be sure to choose a soft pair in any color. An eye-catching shade like blue or light pink will help to draw attention to their toes. We also have dotted socks and cute baby socks with prints and patterns. Encourage your child with positive words and help them with the task if they feel challenged. They’ll be taking them off in no time!

2. Taking Off Hats 

Some 1-year-olds find it just as easy to take off a hat as a pair of socks. They usually pull off loose-fitting hats like baby beanies or reversible swim caps. Choose a few styles and let them experiment. You can loosen or remove ties and strings that could make the activity more challenging. Then, clap for your baby when they release something! If they’re feeling adventurous, you can also help them learn how to put the hat back on.

3. Pushing Arms and Legs Through Clothes 

A 1-year-old child may be able to assist you with pushing their arms through the sleeves of a t-shirt or top. Start with loose sleeves or sleeveless shirts like tank tops to make dressing easier. An oversized top or a loose casual shirt will help them practice putting their arms through the holes. Over time, they can help you by pulling their legs through the opening of their pants and shorts. Jogger pants and swim shorts are a couple of styles that make it easy to practice and keep your little one looking stylish. 

A little fashionista in a green jacket and pink shoes, this baby girl is all set to steal hearts with her stylish outfit.

2-Year-Old Dressing Milestones 

By age 2, many children will show more interest in their clothing. They may also express interest in learning to dress independently. If they need a bit of encouragement, you can teach them a few simple dressing tasks. Practicing these dressing milestones can give them confidence at home or daycare. 

4. Removing Shoes 

A 2-year-old can practice removing their shoes at school or a friend’s house. It’s one of those tasks that makes them feel like a “big kid”! While this activity helps develop physical skills, it also teaches manners. Parents can make it easier by loosening laces or hook and loop straps before they try to pull them off their feet. Encourage more skill development by asking your child to place their shoes in their closet or the family shoe rack. 

5. Removing Clothing 

Toddlers around 2 can usually begin to complete simple dressing tasks like pushing their pants down to their shoes or pulling socks off their feet. Inspire your toddler to do more by asking them to help you move their arms through their shirt opening. 

Ensure tops fit well so you’re not squeezing them over their head or arms. Children can also help put on a pair of ankle socks at this age. A little direction on how to wear the socks will help to give them confidence and spark their imagination. 

6. Unbuttoning Large Buttons 

As the months pass, you can teach your growing 2-year-old how to unbutton a large button. The feeling of a large, smooth button in their hands is enjoyable and exciting! The accessory could be a button on a pair of denim jeans. It could even be a fall sweater or jacket. Outerwear like a coat or sweater can help them learn how to put on their clothing. Once they have the garment over their back and arms, you can help them zip or button it. 

An adorable baby boy dressed in a blue shirt and pants, representing "3 year old dressing milestones"

3-Year-Old Dressing Milestones 

Three-year-olds are usually becoming more comfortable with dressing themselves. They may want to try on clothing with little help or attempt to put something on without a parent watching. They’re also more imaginative! Playing “dress up” may encourage them to try new clothes without assistance. They can also begin to help choose their clothing. As they progress through the year, they’ll begin to see the difference between the front and back of clothing. You can encourage their independence and help them with their dressing breakthroughs by practicing the following activities: 

7. Putting on Shirts and Shoes  

A 3-year-old may want to put on their own t-shirt or top. Some will attempt to put sneakers or sandals on their own feet. Footwear with easy hook and loop straps or slip-on features will help them build confidence. Let them practice on their own with little interference. If they request help, tell them how great they’re doing with learning how to dress. 

8. Putting on Shoes and Socks 

Toddlers find it intriguing to put sneakers or sandals on their feet. Some kids will even put on their socks if a parent can help with the heel. Provide your child with shoes that are easy to pull on and comfortable from heel to toe. Colorful socks will make it more exciting to choose clothing from the closet. It may also get things moving when it’s time to get dressed in the morning! 

9. Zipping and Unzipping 

If your 3-year-old likes large buttons, introduce them to zipping and unzipping. Many toddlers this age can practice zipping up and down once you connect the shank. They may learn to separate the two sides if they keep at it. With such a fun sound, it may even turn into a game! 

4-Year-Old Dressing Milestones

4-Year-Old Dressing Milestones 

Four-year-olds are becoming more independent in many activities, including dressing. They’ll become more interested in showing how they can dress at this age. They may also try more complex dressing tasks. You may notice that your child reaches the following milestones around age 4: 

10. Begins to Zip Jacket

Your four-year-old may not be able to zip a jacket up, but they can start to learn how to insert the pieces together. Have them practice the first part and let you finish the zipping process. You can also let them practice zipping their coat part of the way up. Let them practice on an older jacket placed in front of them. The challenge may become a learning experience and a fun activity. 

11. Place Socks on Correctly 

Four-year-olds have been practicing with socks for some time, so they can often put them on with the proper heel and toe orientation. Toddlers quickly learn what it feels like when socks are comfortable on their feet. They’ll use this tactile knowledge to help them complete the task before putting on their shoes. 

12. Observe How to Lace Shoes 

It’s an excellent age to show your kids how to lace shoes. You can create a hands-on experience for your child by showing them how to tie a shoe placed in front of you. Buy a pair of laced shoes to alternate with their slip-on or hook and loop straps. Let them keep practicing until they’re confident. 

5-Year-Old Dressing Milestones

5-Year-Old Dressing Milestones 

Age five is a year full of milestones. Children are entering their school years and learning to do various activities independently. They’re also growing by leaps and bounds. You may be surprised and delighted to see how well your son or daughter can dress by their fifth birthday. If they’re ready, let your five-year-old choose their clothing. They’ll love trying on their new favorite ensemble for themselves!

13. Dressing Independently 

A five-year-old can learn how to dress independently with practice and encouragement. Every child is unique and develops at their own pace, so don’t worry about a bit of variation! Giving your kid some time is okay if they need a little help turning their socks around or zipping a jacket. Independent dressing is an excellent goal in your child’s fifth year, but it doesn’t always come easy! Fun tops and bottoms in their favorite prints and colors will excite them about getting dressed and starting their day. 

Making Dressing Fun for Children  

Your child is learning and growing by leaps and bounds! Seeing their strides in dressing and choosing their favorite clothing is impressive. When it comes to physical milestones such as putting on clothes, one of the best things you can do is take the pressure off yourself and your little one. 

Remember — every child is unique! A positive, relaxed approach to dressing and lacing shoes will make the activities fun. It will also give them the confidence to try new activities. Allow your little one to associate discovery and accomplishment with putting on their clothes. Your patience and encouragement will pay off when they begin to dress themselves. If you have any questions about dressing milestones or your child’s development, don’t hesitate to talk to their pediatrician. They will help you navigate these precious early years while helping your child thrive and grow!

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