The Art of “Attempting” to Dress a Toddler

by OurYoungWonders

“I do it” my self dressing toddler tells me as she attempts for the 5th time to put two legs in the same pant hole. “No!” says my friend’s toddler as she battles to get any sort of clothing on her nude runner. 

During the toddler years our babies are suddenly discovering independent thoughts and actions. They’re discovering that ‘me’ is different to the ‘us’ between parent and child during the first year. Man, it can be frustrating battling the defiance and determination to have to do it their own way, but it’s a much needed process. So how can we save our sanity and also encourage the self growth of our toddler? There’s no easy solution but approaching things in new ways can help.

Allow More Time

When you identify a new area of exploration of “I do it” start the process 15 minutes earlier. If they are wanting to attempt getting dressed themselves, give them time to attempt it before it’s urgent they’re ready. As long as it’s functional you might need to excuse the backward shirt or two pairs of pants for the time being. If they want to be a big person and put their own belt on, schedule in leaving the house 10 minutes earlier.

Give them choices

Perhaps they’re not ready with the skills to attempt the task in whole. At the same time, they’re desiring self independence and a say in the matter of daily life. Perhaps give them the choice of which t-shirt they want to wear. Letting them choose if they want to get dressed in the bathroom or the bedroom. By giving them age appropriate decisions they are learning decision making, independence and self worth that you’re listening to them.

Life is a big unknown. If there’s something they knows is a toddler certainty they will light up.

Explain it

Toddlers absorb and understand a lot more than you would think. Talk them through the logic and process of doing a task. They may not respond the first few times to why you put one leg in one pant hole and the other in the other pant hole at first. They may need time to process the enlightening logic. It is sinking in regardless of their immediate reaction. In six months time you may even over hear them randomly explaining to someone why there are two holes for the legs in pants.

Make it a game

Toddlers learn best through play. If the new task you can make into an instructional game they might embrace it more. “Can you jump like a kangaroo into the two pant holes?” “Oh, I’ve lost your hand, I’m sure it’s up this sleeve somewhere… boo, there it is!” 

Try putting their clothes on yourself wrongly and see if they can do it better. Or race them to see who can put their shoes on first.

Use an incentive

If your independent toddler will only respond with ‘no’ then they may need some incentive to get the task done. Or if they WILL NOT let you help even after 20 failed attempts and you’re going to be late for work then it might be time to pause the learning. Have an incentive treat up your sleeve to allow you to step in, like a yogurt pouch or time playing with their favourite toy or a really cool sticker. 


Toddlers thrive on routine and knowing what’s coming. Life is a big unknown. If there’s something a toddler knows is a certainty they will light up. If until they’re dressed their favourite breakfast isn’t going to be served everyday then they know they have to get dressed first. If they know that first thing in the morning when they wake up their nappy will be changed, then that is what they expect. The routine of the life they know. Make a routine that works best for smoother transitions.

Every toddler is different and you will need to find the best technique to suit their personality. Whether they need incentives to get dressed, self independence or distractions and games. You know your toddler best and with trial and error the best approaches they respond to. Back yourself, you’ve got this… and when they change the way they want to get dressed after a few weeks, just go with it. They’re evolving people exploring the world in new ways.

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