We all know that our children should sit up at 6 months, crawl at 9 months, and walk at around a year. However, have you thought about when your child should be dressing themselves? Or what skills it actually takes to dress yourself? Your occupational therapist may ask you about dressing milestones because they are a great indicator for a child’s development of different motor skills.

1 Year: Remove Socks

The first big dressing milestone is having your child remove their socks. Children should be mastering this skill by 1 year old. This skill not only gives your child some newfound independence but creates hand-eye connection leading to hand-eye coordination in the future. Whether or not a child has mastered this skill also tells the therapist about the strength of the child’s arms and hands. Often as therapists we hear parents’ complaints about their child taking off their socks everywhere but this is often music to our ears. 

By their first year of age, children should be actively participating in their dressing. They should be cooperative and engaged by holding out their arms for a sleeve or their feet for a shoe. If your child is not engaged while you are dressing them, try making the routine stand out more to them. You may do this by singing or drawing their attention to the part of the body you are dressing.

2 Years: Remove Shoes and Put On Socks

As your child gets a bit older, the next big self dressing milestones starts around 2 years of age. This is when your child should be able to remove their shoes and begin to attempt to put on their socks. It is also at this age that they are able pull down their pants just in time for potty training.  These skills require a child to be able to move both their arms in a coordinated manner and have core and upper body strength. Then as your child practices these abilities, more complex dressings skills emerge.

3 Years: Put On Shoes and Unzip Jacket

At 3 years of age is when we see the refinement of motor movement and children develop the skills to put on their socks and shoes with a little assistance and even unzip their jacket. They are also able to take off their coat and put on a shirt. These skills require more precise motor movements and larger attention spans.

To prepare for the future, parents should work hard on teaching their child to unbutton large buttons at this age. This is a good transitional skill that helps kids develop the fine motor movements they will need to master more complex dressing skills.

4 Years: Undress Completely

Now as your child approaches school age, they should be able to undress themselves completely. Children at the age are also able to put on sweats and pull on shirts independently. They are beginning to learn how to button large buttons and have mastered putting on their shoes and socks. At this age, your child is almost completely dressing themselves. They may need a little help with orientation of clothing, zippers, and tying shoes. These dressing skills require more focus, fine motor movement and great coordination to complete. It is helpful at this stage to take a step back and practice giving instructions to your child. They may still need assistance completing some tasks but this is an opportunity to help them learn following skills.

5 Years: Dress Completely

Now that your child has turned 5, it is time for kindergarten. At this age they should be able to dress themselves completely including tying their shoes. Your child may need extra time to complete dressing tasks but they should be able to dress independently. Be patient and encourage their newfound independence!

When Your Child Isn’t Meeting Dressing Milestones

As you can see, dressing tasks get more complex as your child gains more skills. If you notice your child is not meeting their dressing milestones, don’t play the guessing game and get them in for evaluation with a pediatric occupational therapist. There could be underlying reasons why your child is not meeting these benchmarks that could lead to larger deficits in the future if not addressed. A child that dresses themselves not only is a confident child, but also decreases the stress on the caregivers in the household.