Dressing without help is a big step toward independence. Yet long before your child can wiggle her way into her jammies by herself, before she’s able to button buttons and zip zippers, you are, no doubt, chattering away during clothing changes. And that’s wise because as you chat, her verbal and cognitive skills grow.
Think of your baby as a super absorber. He may not chat much now, but he’s taking it all in, and soon he will use your words to hold a simple conversation. To help him along, sprinkle your get-dressed time with clothing-related words. Talk about pajamas, pants, shirts, undies, arms, legs, and more.
What to say—and when to say it
Each child develops at his own unique pace, so forget hard-and-fast rules. Go with the flow, and keep the following in mind.
If your child is: About one year old
She will: Extend her arms for sleeves, raise her feet for shoes, push her arms through sleeves and legs through pants and shorts, and pull shoes and socks off.
You should: Focus on everyday moves to boost her word bank and comprehension. Say, “This is your diaper. We’re going to put it on now.” Then add, “This is your T-shirt. We’re going to put that on, too.” Your child may not know what a T-shirt is, but soon she will understand that things have names and there is an order to this process. Explain your plan, use gestures, and point to specific objects. Tell your child, “This is your belly, and these are your feet. I am going to put this T-shirt over your arms and tummy, and then I am going to put these socks on your feet.”
No-fail tip: Just keep chatting. Talk up a storm about everything and anything—in her wardrobe and yours! Let her know everything she wears and every part of her body has a name.
If your child is: Around two years old
He will: Remove his coat or jacket (as long as it’s already unbuttoned or unzipped), take off a pair of shoes (as long as they don’t have laces), help push down his pants and undies, and find armholes in his shirts.
You should: Watch for the next big stage of development. Soon your child will be able to follow simple two-step directions, and string together a few simple words to express himself. His vocabulary may blossom to 50-plus words. Now’s the time to kick his comprehension and conversation skills up a notch. Start with a simple request. Follow that up with “Good job!” Use dressing and undressing, along with reading, singing, and playing, to increase your child’s vocabulary and boost his listening skills.
No-fail tip: Give your child options when dressing. Be specific when you ask him to choose between two outfits. Ask, “Would you like to wear your blue jeans and this blue and white striped top, or would you like to wear these sweatpants and a sweatshirt today?” Give him time to respond.
If your child is: Three years old
She will: Slip into a T-shirt with help, pull down elastic-waist pants, unbutton large buttons, pull apart snaps, put on socks (sometimes twisted!), put on shoes (sometimes on the wrong feet), remove T-shirt with just a little help, zip and unzip a zipper (if you start the process), and button large, front buttons.
You should: Begin big-kid conversations. By now, she can put three or four or more words together to create a sentence. Her word bank could reach 200 words or more, and she may be able to count as many as three objects with ease. So, have fun with numbers! Together, count the number of skirts, dresses, and pairs of shoes in her closet. Ask how many bracelets she has. Organize her drawers by color—for example, three red tops, two blue ones, one yellow, and one white. Let her select what she would like to wear (from two pre-determined choices).
No-fail tip: Use words like denim, silk, cotton, wool, collar, cuffs, smooth, and fuzzy.