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Dressing skills

Some children find dressing hard because they have movement or learning difficulties.

All children learn to undress first. You can help your child by breaking the task down into little steps and getting them to assist you at first.

Then, as their ability grows, you can let them carry out each stage of dressing for themselves.

If you follow the advice on this page but see no improvement in six months, please contact our CYPIT Team.

 

 

  • The child is reluctant to take part in dressing themselves
  • They look for help and reassurance
  • They put their clothes on backwards or inside out
  • They leave their clothes twisted on their body
  • They leave some items of clothing off because they’ve missed them during the dressing process
  • They get frustrated because they can’t dress themselves without help

 

  • Choose loose fitting clothes that don’t have lots of fastenings. Look for tops with easy openings, stretchy socks and elasticated waists
  • Start by encouraging your child to help with the process of undressing and dressing, for example by waiting for them to push their arm through a sleeve
  • Make sure your child is well supported when they’re sitting or standing, so their hands are free to use. If they have poor balance, get them to sit on a chair or use a corner wall for support
  • Start by teaching your child to undress, as this is easier than dressing
  • Talk your child through the order in which clothes are put on. As you do this, draw attention to and name the different parts of the body to help improve their body awareness
  • Establish a routine to avoid confusion, keeping the sequence of dressing and undressing the same each time so the child can predict what comes next
  • Try to practice when you’re not rushed. Allow time for your child to join in – for example pausing after you place their arm in the sleeve hole to let them push their arm through on their own
  • Practice dressing in the evening or at weekends when there’s plenty of time
  • Lay the clothes out in the order they’re put on. Lay jumpers out with the bottom edge nearest the child and the neck furthest away
  • When you’re helping the child to dress, give simple instructions using words and gestures – for example ‘Give me your foot’
  • Practice dressing and undressing when you’re playing with dolls or in dressing up games
  • Dress the child in front of a mirror to reinforce what you’re doing
  • Write down or draw the different stages in the dressing process, to give the child a pictorial sequence of what’s involved
  • Remember to reinforce their effort and give positive feedback to encourage them

 

This section deals with putting clothes on and taking them off, including upper and lower garments.

Sweaters and jumpers

  • Start by practicing undressing with loose jumpers.
  • Teach your child one of these two methods for putting on a sweater or jumper:
    1. Put both arms in first and then pull it over their head, or
    2. Pull the jumper over their head first and then put the arms through the sleeves.
  • Get your child to lay out their jumper in front of them with the bottom edge nearest to them, the neck furthest away and the front of the garment face down.
  • Try ‘backward chaining’, which means teaching the last step first. When teaching a child to put on a jumper you would:
    1. Place their arms through the holes
    2. Push their head through the hole, and then
    3. Encourage them to pull the jumper down as the final step.
    4. Once the child has mastered Step 3, get them to do Steps 2 and 3. Once they can do this, they can move on to doing Steps 1, 2 and 3.

Shirts and cardigans

  • Start with a sleeveless shirt, moving on to a t-shirt and then long sleeved shirts.
  • Teach your child one of these two methods for putting on an open shirt or cardigan:
    1. Put one arm in and show your child how to reach to the back for the other sleeve, or
    2. Place the open shirt facing upwards in your child’s lap with the collar closest to their body.
  • The child should put both arms into the armholes, raise their arms and bring the shirt over their head.
  • To help your child tell the back from the front, mark one side with a coloured label or patch, or choose clothes which have a design on the front.
  • Bunch up a shirt so that the armhole is visible, and then put in each arm in turn.

Trousers

  • Start practicing undressing with loose trousers and shorts as these are easier.
  • Show your child how to remove trousers, and encourage them to do the same. Show them how to use both hands to grip the sides of the trousers to pull them up and down.
  • Start with trousers that have elastic waistbands, as these are easier to put on and take off.
  • Place a coloured label in the back of the trousers to help your child tell the difference between the front and the back.

Socks:

Children often have difficulty putting socks on correctly and end up with the heel on the top of their foot.

  • Show your child how to remove and put on socks correctly, and let them help you.
  • Try buying socks that have different coloured heels and toes.
  • Trainer socks can help the child get used to where the heel goes.
  • Looser socks are easier, so let your child practice with your socks. Add a little talc to the bottom of the foot to help the sock slide on easily.
  • Cotton socks are easier to handle than nylon ones.
  • Practice putting socks on to dolls or stuffed teddies.
  • Try ‘backward chaining’, which means breaking down the task of putting on or removing the sock into small steps, and teaching the last step first. When they’ve mastered the last step, let them do the last two steps themselves, and then all three, gradually reducing the help you’re giving.

Shoes:

Children can find putting on their shoes a challenge, and much prefer to take them off. You may see:

  • They leave laces untied or stuffed into the shoe.
  • The tongue is wedged into the toe part of the shoe, which causes discomfort and makes it more difficult to put on.
  • The heel of the shoe is trodden down at the back because the child has not been able to pull it up over their heel.
  • The child has their shoes on the wrong feet.
  • Velcro straps are not pulled tight, so the shoe is loose on the foot

What you can do to help:

Start with teaching them how to take the shoe off properly.

  • Sit behind the child and show them how to undo the fastenings, pull the shoe open to loosen it and pull it upwards with the hand under the heel.
  • Repeat the task but allow your child to do the last step – pulling the shoe off – themselves.
  • Keep practicing the task in the same way. As your child progresses, let them do more – pulling open the shoe as well as taking it off the foot.
  • Let them practice taking off your shoes for you, or take shoes off their toys.
  • Encourage your child to help with fastenings.

Putting on shoes is a little trickier. Start with putting on larger or looser shoes – dressing-up games are a good time to practice this.

  • Let your child practice with your shoes.
  • Start with open-back or slip-on shoes.
  • Teach your child one of these two methods:
    1. Place the left foot over the right knee, and put the left shoe on – and vice versa, or
    2. Place the shoe on the floor, and let the child wriggle their foot into the shoe.
  • If your child needs extra support let them sit on the bottom step, against a wall or in the corner of a sofa.
  • Always do the task in the same order so it’s easier to remember which bit comes next – for example, loosen the fastenings, pull the shoe open, pull the tongue out of the shoe, wriggle the foot in, readjust the tongue and fasten.
  • At first you may need to position the correct shoe by the correct foot. If your child has difficulty putting each shoe on the correct foot you can:
    1. Fix something bright onto one shoe and teach your child ‘bright is right’.
    2. Buy shoes with a logo on the outer side.
    3. Hold the shoes next to each other before putting them on to see if they’re ‘friends’; that is, they ‘face’ each other.
    4. Place the shoes in front of your child in the correct position, so the left shoe is matching the left foot.
    5. Help your child recognise their left and right shoe by drawing arrows inside which point together.

 

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