Fine motor skills
The act of dressing and undressing oneself completely independently can be a complicated and difficult process and requires a number of pre-requisite skills:
such as balance, coordinating movements (gross motor skills) and fine motor skills
such as tracking objects with eyes, understanding differences in size and shape, handling different textures and identifying objects by touch only
such as knowing where each body part relates in space, knowing that the body has two sides and a midline
All children learn to undress first. You can help your child to learn to dress by breaking each part of dressing into little steps. Then, as they learn each step, you can let them carry out more steps for themselves.
Some children find dressing hard because they have movement or learning difficulties.
Support and encourage your child
When practicing dressing skills it is important to:
Make the experience as fun as possible and to avoid dressing being a chore
Allow plenty of time, don’t rush – maybe start at weekends or holidays
Begin with easy, small steps
Give your child the opportunity to do more for themselves
Give praise and encouragement
A good way to introduce dressing skills is for you to start the task and for your child to complete the last stage, gradually letting them complete more of the task until they are doing it for themselves
Order of dressing
All children need to learn what order to put their clothes on in. They need to know that their pants go on before their trousers. Unless they want to dress up as a superhero!
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde have produced a set of information sheets and visual guides about teaching the order of dressing.
This is a particularly useful technique to use when teaching a child how to get dressed or undressed.
This technique can also be helpful for teaching any task that has a number of steps.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde have produced a useful guide about backward chaining.
Tips and advice
- Make sure your child is well supported in sitting or standing so that their hands are free to use.
- 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, and which ones are put on first.
- Lay the clothes out in the order they are put on.
- Lay jumpers out with the bottom edge nearest the child and the neck furthest away.
- Choose loose fitting clothes with minimum fastenings.
- Look for tops with easy openings, stretchy socks and elasticated waists.
- Draw attention to different parts of the body and name them to help improve their body awareness.
- Establish a routine to avoid confusion, so that the activity becomes predictable.
- Keep the sequence of dressing and undressing the same.
- Try to practise when you are not rushed.
- Allow time for your child to cooperate in the process, such as pause when their arm is placed in the sleeve hole so that they can push their arm through independently.
- Practise dressing in the evening or at weekends when there is more time.
- When you are assisting the child to dress, give simple verbal and gestural instructions, such as “give me your foot”.
- Dress in front of a mirror for visual reinforcement.
- Remember to reinforce their effort and give positive feedback.
- Set small achievable goals, such as pulling up trousers.
- For children who are easily distracted ensure a quiet distraction free environment.
- Demonstrate to your child how to remove and put on socks correctly and allow them to help you.
- Try buying socks that have different coloured heels and toes.
- Trainer socks can help to establish where the heel goes without a lot of sock that needs pulling over the heel.
- Looser socks are easier so let your child practice with your socks.
- A little talc can be added to the bottom of the foot to help the sock slide on easily.
- Practice putting socks onto dolls or stuffed teddies.
- Sit behind the child and demonstrate how to remove and put on their socks using hand over hand guidance.
- Ensure child feels secure sitting down, allow them to sit on the bottom step, against a wall or in the corner of a sofa.
- Start with taking the shoe off properly.
- Sit behind the child and demonstrate how to take off their shoes by undoing the fastenings, pulling the shoe open to loosen it and pulling it upwards with the hand under the heel.
- Repeat the task but allow your child to do the last step, such as pull the shoe off.
- Continue practising the task in the same way and as your child progresses, allow them to do more of the task e.g. pull open the shoe and then pull it off the foot.
- Allow them to practise taking off your shoes for you or shoes off their toys.
- Encourage your child to assist with fastenings.
- Initially you may need to position the correct shoe by the correct feet.
- If your child has difficulty putting each shoe on the correct foot you can:
- Fix something bright onto one shoe and teach your child “bright is right”
- Buy shoes with a logo on the outer side
- Place shoes in front of your child in their correct position, so that the left shoe is matching the left foot
- Help your child recognise their left and right shoe by drawing arrows inside the shoes pointing together
- Start by using large buttons on a doll, a jumper worn by someone else or a toy.
- Once the child has mastered large buttons, move on to fastening items with smaller buttons.
- Reattach the buttons with a thick thread, leaving about half an inch of thread between the button and the fabric for easier buttoning.
- Make a “Button Box” for a fun and interesting toy –
- Use a shoe box and make slots on the top (horizontal and vertical)
- Let the child post buttons or coins through the holes
- Make a “Button Board” out of fabric and large buttons –
- Make the button holes at least a quarter of an inch larger than the button
- Sew the button on loosely with strong thread
- Place a nice picture on the button board under the fabric so that after the buttons are unfastened, it reveals the picture
- Make a button snake.
- Use threading cards, games and activities as the same skills are used in threading as used when fastening buttons.
- When teaching the child to fasten shirt buttons, remember to start buttoning from the bottom to the top to ensure the button and button hole correspond correctly.
- Encourage the child to check themselves in the mirror.
- Top buttons are often very difficult and can be replaced with Velcro or a popper (sew the button on permanently on the outside).
- Alternatively, all buttons, including sleeve buttons, can be replaced with Velcro fastenings or poppers.
- Demonstrate how to fasten and unzip a zip by pulling on the tab.
- Allow your child to help you by pulling the zip up or down with you.
- Zip tags can be adapted by attaching a piece of ribbon, a zip ring or a large paper clip as this makes it easier to grasp.
- Start with heavy-duty large zips which have big tabs or rings as these slide more easily.