Promoting autonomous self-care and independence at home:
Letting children choose their clothes for the day and learn how to get dressed
What does getting dressed in the morning look like? Frustration for the child? Frustration for the adult? Constant nagging/reminding the child to choose clothes and get dressed? Fights over what to wear?
Meet your child where she/he is:
Is she interested in choosing clothes? Does she need help to get dressed? Does he need help to access his clothes? Would she benefit from having fewer choices?
The goal in the morning is that the child independently chooses what clothes to wear and feels confident in her/his ability to get dressed.
So first, let’s look at how to store a child’s clothes so that they are easily available to the child. Consider this: Do you care if your child’s clothing matches? Or can she pair a purple shirt with orange and red floral pants? Depending upon how you feel about pairing tops and bottoms, you can present your child’s clothing options accordingly. The adult must decide ahead of time how to store the child’s clothes so that the child has freedom to choose each morning. You can make outfits for your child to choose from or give her unlimited access to tops and bottoms that are not paired. Also check that the clothes that are available are seasonally appropriate, “everyday” clothes. If you have special occasion clothing for your children that you do not want them to have access to in their usual morning routine, store those items elsewhere. The goal is to give your child access to clothes that you will be able to say “yes” to any day of the week, notwithstanding a special occasion (religious service, wedding, party, etc).
Here are two methods for storing the child’s clothes so they can be accessed by the child:
The first method: Hang a low bar in a closet or wardrobe. Hang two or three complete outfits (minus socks and underwear) and let the child chose one complete outfit. This method allows the adult to be more selective about matching tops and bottoms and also ensures that all choices are weather appropriate. However, this method requires almost daily prep work from the adult (prior to the morning routine) to ensure several clothing options are presented on hangers.
The second method: Use the KonMari Method (or a close approximation) to fold and store clothes in a dresser with low, accessible drawers so that the child can easily see all of the items in a drawer. This method eliminates stacks of clothes, which are difficult for a child to manage and keep neat and tidy while removing clothing from a drawer. If a large number of clothing items seems overwhelming (depending on the age and needs of your child), you can simply store fewer items in each drawer (ex: only four shirts and four pairs of pants and keep extra clothes somewhere else). If you use this method, you are allowing the child to match up tops and bottoms (unless your child is asking for your help in this area).
So now that you’ve considered how to store your child’s clothes and how much access to give her to her seasonal wardrobe, let’s take a look at the act of getting dressed. It’s important to keep in mind what really matters—your child’s growing sense of independence and self-confidence. Firstly, be patient with yourself and your child. Learning autonomous self-care is a process. Look for opportunities to help, and notice when your child needs to do it herself. Look for ways to demonstrate and help break the action into smaller steps. Example: sit on the floor to put on pants. One leg at a time, pull the pants leg all the way up over the foot, maybe say something like, “find your foot” to direct attention to this part of the process so that when the child stands up to pull up their pants, she won’t be standing on part of the pants’ leg. Maybe your child can independently put on pants but not a shirt or socks. Let him do as much as he can on his own.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings. “Putting a shirt on is hard. Would you like some help?” or “Be patient with yourself. You are capable.”
Something to consider: Does it matter if a shirt is worn backwards? (A gentle suggestion to turn the shirt around may accepted. Or not. Your child may also resist your attempts to “fix” or “undo” the work that she/he has just done to get dressed. We don’t want to micro-manage our children. A backwards shirt is a sign of learning and budding independence.)
Lastly, but not least in importance, consider time: it will undoubtedly take longer to actively involve your child in choosing her outfit and teaching her how and giving her space to get dressed than if you simply chose clothing and dressed your child. So if you are just starting this new routine, allow extra time for this process so you don’t have to rush. Every morning. Observe your child. And be available. Children can sense your patience with the process.
It’s worth restating: keep in mind what really matters—your child’s growing sense of independence and self-confidence. Be patient with yourself and your child. Make adjustments. We are all learning!