A toddler self-dressing timeline

Bathing & Dressing   |   Age: 2 years 6 months

A toddler self-dressing timeline

Some milestones, like a first tooth coming in, are going to happen to your baby whether you’re encouraging her to or not. Others, like climbing stairs or riding a tricycle, won’t happen until she’s been given the chance to practice, and maybe also been taught how. The type of skills that are called “self-care skills,” which toddlers use to become more independent from their parents as they grow, like dressing themselves, tend to fall somewhere in the middle - many toddlers become interested enough in them to want to try for themselves, but children whose parents are quick to feed and dress them themselves may not begin to try on their own as early.

Still, there is a fairly predictable timeline for the way toddlers learn how to dress and undress, give a little time for not being interested in dressing, or take a little for tots who want nothing more than to be naked as soon as they can manage it.

Dressing and undressing requires toddlers’ gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and growing cognitive abilities, as they learn the order that clothes need to go on, and how to use their bodies to do so. This means that not every skill a toddler needs to dress and undress herself appears at once. Usually, toddlers gain some of the gross motor skills to do basic, big movements needed in dressing first, followed by cognitive skills and interest, more refined gross motor skills, and finally, last of all, the fine motor skills needed to handle delicate processes like button or zippers.

Tots who take their time

There’s a difference between toddlers who may be having trouble getting dressed and toddlers who are having trouble learning how. Toddlers who haven’t made many attempts to dress on their own may not always enjoy being encouraged to try, and may take a while to develop the skills they need. On the other hand, toddlers who seem to be struggling with basic dressing tasks, due to clumsiness or trouble with grip-strength, may benefit from being evaluated by a pediatrician for motor delays. This is especially true for toddlers whose parents have noticed them having trouble with motor skills at other times.


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