Getting children dressed in the morning can be a huge stress. We all want our children to dress themselves, look presentable and do it quickly!
I've written before about not offering too much choice. Keep good/best clothes out of reach unless this is the occasion they are dressing for. For some children especially toddlers just giving a choice of two to three outfits might be enough. Yes, clothing needs to be super accessible and the dressing area needs to be kept tidy.
But why do we want our children to dress themselves?
"Children who feel respected and competent develop a far greater sense of emotional well-being". Tim Seldin in How to Raise and Amazing Child the Montessori Way.
Allowing your child to dress themselves teaches them life skills, it can help to develop a sense of calm, concentration, cooperation, self discipline and self reliance. It can help them with body awareness, fine motor skills, it can help them to break down a task. Mastering a step such as putting on shoes can lead to a huge sense of accomplishment and self satisfaction.
Having children who will dress themselves (or attempt to as much as possible) also sets the tone for other areas of their life. We want strong, capable children. We need to empower them, give them the skills and confidence to attempt and complete tasks to become independent, engaged and considerate members of our community.
So what are we looking for in clothing?
Comfort first. Children have so much going on their day, they are busy. They are busy moving and working and playing. They do not need to be distracted or limited by their clothing. I love kids in denim but it needs to be a soft denim. Clothing needs to fit and not be too tight. I think all kids clothing needs to be comfortable enough to sleep in. Clothing with an elastic waist, in cottons, that are breathable are often more comfortable. Think seriously about fabric and how it feels, does it feel nice, soft, comfortable or hard, stiff and scratchy. Comfort also involves dressing to the season and this can be difficult with toddlers who may want to wear short sleeves when it is freezing. In this case I do not believe in natural consequences, I would not allow my child to go cold just to teach them a lesson. If it is a problem have ongoing discussions about seasons, how animals survive the winters, about how seasons change and how our clothing adapts. Children must be able to sit comfortably on the floor, climb a tree, jump or hop or run with strong and flexible shoes. Do not allow the child's clothing to restrict them in work or play.
Clothing must be easy to put on and take off. Oh why are there small buttons on toddler clothing? While there is a time and place for a child to learn how to button a shirt the level of difficulty must match the skill of the child. Do not burden the child, we want to set the child up for dressing success. Remove all barriers and obstacles so self dressing is as easy as possible.
Elastic waists are the way to go with pants and skirts. Boots that pull on, shoes with elastic straps or velcro. Again there is a time and place to learn how to tie laces but it's typically not in toddlerhood. The more independently, without struggle it is for the child to dress themselves the easier it will be, their confidence will increase and the quicker it will be.
Consider the ease of the clothing for toileting. Even if the child isn't at this stage yet, they might be soon! Easy to pull down and pull up is essential. Dresses can definitely work for a toilet learning toddler however keep in mind the style/length. Once toddlers start toileting often they need to do so quickly and do not want any delay with difficult clothing. Where possible leave zippers or snap buttons for an older child.
For a very young child take it step by step depending on their skill level. Never help a child with a task at which they feel they can succeed. If your child can put their socks on give them time and space to do so. Give the child the least amount of help as necessary.
Lots of mix and match. If you want your child to 100% dress themselves you want to make sure there are not too many pieces of clothing that clash. You need to feel comfortable with their choice, asking the child to change their clothes because you don't like what they have picked out can be disempowering. I feel we can give our children lots of advice on clothing such as what is appropriate for the weather or occasion but I don't think it's our place to give them advice on colours or patterns - this is individual choice we need to respect.
Inject personality. It's not so much about Montessori it's just my parenting vibe that I cannot tolerate clothing with slogans or that are brash. There is plenty of clothing around that will allow the child to dress with personality without complying with popular culture or stereotypical beliefs. However this clothing can be hard to find depending on location and budget. Clothing needs to be appropriate to the occasion however allowing the child to inject their personality can help them to express themselves and feel more comfortable within themselves. I also don't believe in dressing to a gender particularly with colour.
It goes without saying that consideration needs to be given to the ethical questions around the making of the fabrics and clothes. These will be personal and based on your values however I believe the Montessori view would be to respect the earth and the makers of the clothes.
What happens if your child gets dressed and puts their shirt on backwards, do you correct them? I say it depends. Due to health and comfort I will always correct my children if their shoes are on the wrong feet. I will sit down with the child and ask them if their shoes feel ok and hope that they will notice and pick up on it themselves and self correct. If the clothing is on backwards but it really doesn't make much of a difference comfort wise it's likely I will let it go. If it clearly looks uncomfortable I will mention it, perhaps stand with them in front of the mirror and see if they can find their tag (if it has a tag) which is often an indicator that the clothing is on the wrong way and allow them to correct themselves.
Children need practice, time and space to get dressed. Show your child that you believe in them, make self dressing a routine, an expectation that builds over time. You might also enjoy my articles on Getting dressed - how we do it! and Getting dressed at Two. My most recent post on the children's wardrobe and organisation is here.