Dressing Skills As You Grow

For a child, getting themselves dressed is a big accomplishment and can boost their self-esteem. There are many skills that are needed to get dressed including fine and gross motor skills, bilateral integration (the ability to use both sides of your body together with coordination), sequencing (putting skills together to achieve a final task), strength, motor planning (the ability to determine and carry out a series of motor actions), and sensory processing.

Children can begin assisting with dressing before their first birthday and gain independence in the upcoming years before being able to fully dress themselves at age 5.

ABC Pediatric Therapy Changing shirt motor skills

What dressing skills should my child be able to do and at what age?  The answers are below.  Encourage the skill prior to the age it should be mastered.  At first you will have to completely do the skill for your child.  Talk to your child telling them all the steps to complete the skills.  Progressively ask your child to help you with each step.  Praise your child for their help with the task and successful completion.  You will be teaching your child pride, sense of accomplishment and trust that you think they can.  Great job parent!

By the time a child is 1 years old:

Your child should be able to take his shoes and socks off.

He/she should push their arms in sleeves once the shirt is placed over their head.

A 1 year old should push legs into pants when the pants are held for them.

By the time a child is 2 years old:

He/she should be able to help pull pants down.

A 2 year old should remove their own jacket.

By the time a child is 3 years old:

A 3 year old should be able to take off pants.

He/she can button and unbutton large buttons.

Your child will unzip and zip jacket once zipper is started.

Three year old’s put on socks and shoes by themselves.

By the time a child is 4 years old:

He/she should be able to put on shirt and pants independently.

A 4 year old can take off his/her own shirt.

At this age, your child can snap, button, zip,  and buckle a belt.

Putting socks on correctly is a skill at age 4.

By the time a child is 5 years old:

Your child should be able to dress and undress himself including all fasteners and tie his shoes!  You now have extra time for you!!

Continue to challenge your child now that you know what skills they should be doing and when.  Push their potential to be independent.  Praise their successes!

This is the way to raise a happy, confident child!!

If you need help teaching your child skills reach out to ABC Pediatric Therapy Network.  We are here for you!  If you have questions, call us or visit our website at


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Teaching a Child How to Dress and Undress Themselves

By 12 months, your child should be able to pull shoes off, assist with putting shirt on, and take hat on/off.

By 22 months, your child should be able to zip and unzip a large zipper.

By 24 months, your child should be able to remove an unfastened shirt.

By 26 months, your child should be able to unbutton large buttons and pull down pants with assistance.

By 28 months, your child should be able to pull pants up with assistance.

By 30 months, your child should be able to put shoes on with little assistance.

By 3 years, your child should be able to dress/undress upper body with supervision, without fasteners, buttons large front buttons, and independently pull down pants.

By 3 years 6 months, your child should be able to button 3-4 buttons in a series, zip/unzip, and separate jacket, put on mittens, and snap clothing in front.

By 4 years, your child should be able to pull up pants, put socks on correctly, and put shirt on correctly.

By 5 years, your child should begin tying knots in preparation for shoe tying.

By 6, your child should be able to tie his/her shoes independently.

Make teaching self-care fun! Melissa and Doug make a puzzle with basic life skills to work on buttons, zippers, and tying knots that children love to use. Look for clothes at home or at yard sales that have large buttons and zippers for your kiddos to practice on as well. To model the task, sit behind the child with your hands in front of him/her while holding the practice material. Also, practice closures in front of your child first, rather than on the body. Once that is mastered, practice with the shirt or pants on. It is also easier to start buttoning buttons at the bottom rather than the top when on self.

To practice the skill of buttoning, you can also use a piggy bank or any toy where you have to put round objects in slots. Even lacing cards or activities where you have to pull/push will help advance this skill.

Undressing is usually easier than dressing so work on undressing skills first. Play dress up with bigger clothes. Play dressing games, such as doing an obstacle course or using picture cards.

When working on taking shoes/socks off, make sure your child is able to reach his/her feet and maintain a stable position. If s/he is having difficulty with this, sit on the last step at the bottom of a stair case and cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Master taking off socks and shoes first before moving to putting shoes and socks on. Shoes and socks that are slightly larger for a child will be easier to learn.

Once a child is able to take shoes on/off independently, s/he is able to begin learning to tie knots. It may be fun to practice on shoe tying boards/shoes such as this Melissa and Doug activity. You can also make your own with different colored laces to practice.

These are the 7 steps of tying shoes:

  1. Make an X
  2. Go through the first bunny hole.
  3. Tie the knot tight.
  4. Make 1 bunny ear.
  5. Wrap the other string around the ear.
  6. Go through the second bunny hole.
  7. Tie it tight.







Artwork reproduced with permission of Melissa & Doug.

If your child is having trouble learning to dress or undress themselves, reach out to an Occupational Therapist at ABC Pediatric Therapy Network for help.  Visit our website at for more developmental tips to help your child.  Mastering skills like shoe tying will help improve your child’s self esteem and confidence.

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Developmental Checklist

Is your child meeting their developmental milestones?