“We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit,” says Maria Montessori.
One of the reasons I love Maria Montessori’s educational method is because it emphasizes respect for children and honoring their input and decisions. In their path toward independence, one of the earliest practical life skills introduced to children is learning how to dress themselves.
Do you allow your children to pick out what they would like to wear each day?
I know, it sounds scary — but I promise you the benefits far outweigh any fashion faux pas that might happen!
The freedom to choose their own clothing and what they would like to wear each day fosters several key skills — most notably independence, personal empowerment, and decision-making — among children. It also respects your child’s opinion and right to self-expression.
“It’s very important to know who you are. To make decisions. To show who you are,” says Malala Yousafzai.
Numerous studies even point to a boost in self-confidence depending on what we wear. Who better to know what clothes make them feel good about themselves than, well, themselves? To this day, I can still remember certain outfits that I loved to wear as a child, ones that I would wear every day if I was able. Can you remember having a favorite shirt or dress or other article of clothing from when you were a child that made you feel a certain way when you wore it?
Allowing children to pick their own clothes recognizes their personhood. She is her own being, has her own likes and dislikes, etc.
“They’re my clothes and it’s my body,” said Lilly, age 4, when asked her thoughts about this topic.
Independence in dressing is one of the simplest ways to grant children a bit more control over their own lives. Most of their time is largely micro managed by adults at the exact moment when their will and ego are strongly manifesting themselves. The more choices you can offer your child in regards to what they would like to eat, what they would like to wear, and how their free time is spent will often result in less power struggles.
However, be careful not to overwhelm them with choices or it could have the opposite effect! Keep it simple, and if you see they’re struggling to make decisions, then that’s a clue too much is being asked of them at that moment.
So how does one start?
For younger toddlers, you may begin with a limited number of choices (3-5). You can gradually increase as the child becomes more comfortable making dressing decisions.
If you are concerned about matching, consider a capsule wardrobe where all clothing pieces coordinate with each other.
Separate daytime clothes and nighttime clothes if possible. I find it helps to have a clear distinction between ‘These are the clothes we wear to bed or when we’re lounging in the house’ in contrast to ‘These are the clothes we wear when we go outside or to the store.’
Incorporate dressing into your daily rhythm. For us, we eat breakfast, clean up, and then get dressed for the day. “Once we’re dressed, we can go outside,” is a gentle reminder often used in our house. Our nighttime routine consists of a bath followed by pajamas, brush teeth, and then storytime. Consistency in daily routines is extremely beneficial to kids of all ages. You could even display a rhythm chart for both morning and nighttime routines as a visual reminder.
Purchase clothes that promote independence in dressing. For bottoms, I prefer elastic waistbands. For tops, easy on-and-off shirts. For shoes, avoid ones with laces until your child is able to independently tie them.
Put away out-of-season clothing if possible.
Practice dressing skills. Consider putting a few shirts and shorts and pairs of socks that are one or two sizes too big in a dressing basket in the child’s work area. Loose-fitting clothes are perfect for practice when first beginning to learn to dress themselves and give the child a boost in confidence. Also, be sure to provide lots of unstructured, free time in which children are given the opportunity to practice these importance skills without the imposition of a timeline. Find additional tips to help children learn how to dress themselves on the Aid to Life website.