How do I get my 4 year old daughter to get dressed by herself?

Jodie - posted on 04/04/2012 ( 21 moms have responded )

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She can do most of it by herself but she throws a fit when I ask her to do so. (She still needs help with her socks and any snaps) Even though she knows how to, a lot of the times I take over because I do not have enough time to let her do it herself. She already gets up an hour before we have to be out the door but she is a major dawdler. Does anyone have any suggestions about what to do?

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Sarah - posted on 04/05/2012

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My daughter is almost 5 and typically drags her feet on getting moving. And if anything is amiss (can't find the matching sock, etc) I'll walk in 15 minutes later to find her without a stitch on. The things that have helped are her racing daddy to get downstairs, and making a huge deal about her becoming a big girl for getting herself dressed. One time I challenged her to get on various things before I got to different letters in the alphabet (i.e. I wonder if you can get your pants on by the time I get to "J". I wonder if you can get your shirt on by the time I get to "S".). And after reading an article about parents doing things for their kids in order to get out the door on time I began to back off, and now she can zipper her jacket on her own pretty well, among other things. It's hard to wait, but their success in doing things themselves and the practice gains SO much in the future! So good luck! (P.S. When she does dress herself I still have to check to make sure she has undies on, that they're on the right way, and that her waist and legs are in the right holes!)

Susan - posted on 04/05/2012

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If you have other children, make it a race, that is what I do and it works great. They love winning, Not only do they get dressed but they do it fast. If no other children you could try a timer and have her try to beat the timer. When she does give her a treat that she normally doesnt get first thing in the morning. Maybe a glass of chocolate milk instead of regular or a half a pop tart to go with breakfast. good luck!!!

Julie - posted on 04/04/2012

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My son is the opposite. I guess that supports the every child is different theory. He is 3 1/2 and dresses himself except for buttons. But I find with him, if I stay in the room, he spends more time whining and asking me to help. He does much better if I tell him to get dressed, let him pick out his own clothes, and I go downstairs and tell him he can come down when he's all dressed.

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My son is 4 and for the most part, dresses himself. I get his outfit together and sit down with him. I hand him his shirt and say, "Here, put this on." I hand him his underwear and pants and say the same thing. He needs help still with the snap and zipper of his jeans and with his socks. But I found that if I just laid out his outfit and said, "Ok, get dressed." and walked away, he'd MAYBE put one thing on. At that age, I think they still need constant reminders because they still have the attention span of a flea. So that's why I sit with him, to keep him on task. I still let him do it himself, but I'm there to remind him that it's time for putting on clothes, not time for playing with toys (or whatever).



If you think about it, it's the same with other things too, at least with my son. Like, I can't just send him to his room and ask him to clean it. I have to help him....not do it FOR him necessarily, but I have to be in there to remind him that he's there to put his toys away, not play with them. Again, I think it's the attention span (or lack of) issue.

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Jodie - posted on 04/11/2012

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Thanks everybody for your advice. I really like the racing idea. That seems right up her ally. I have been working more with her on this and she has been doing better. She has been asking for me and her daddy to have a baby. We have been talking a lot about it but we are waiting for some financial things to work out first. So, I told her that if we were to have a baby, that I would need a lot of help and her getting dressed on her own would help me out tremendously. I told her the baby is not going to be able to get dressed by itself and is going to need our help to do so. I think she has responded to this in a positive way. If she falls back into her old pattern, I will try the racing idea.

Pamela - posted on 04/07/2012

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When she gets up make a game of getting dressed. Example: Let's she how fast you can get on your panties! What about your top? Pants? or whatever she is wearing on that day. Play "Beat the Clock". Explain to her what the timer does and tell her how much time she has. Ask her, " Do you think you can "beat the clock"?" Get a kitchen timer and leave it in her room giving her 5 or 10 minutes to get dressed on her own while you go off to do other things. When the timer goes off, come back to check and don't forget to praise her should she "beat the clock" If she doesn't do it the first few times, encourage her for how much she did get done. Example "Wow, you got your underwear on and your pants and top....all that's left is______. You did a great job!. I bet next time you'll get it all on before the timer goes off".



You might want to have a "race" with her while you are dressing yourself. Any idea that takes it from a "chore" to something fun to do.



The fact that you become "impatient" and "take over" is teaching her that she CAN'T do it right. Is that what you want? One of the hardest lessons to learn when being a parent is PATIENCE!!!! That's why grandparents are sometimes better at it than parents. They have learned that everything doesn't always have to happen NOW!!!



If she is a "dawdler" allow her to do so.....AFTER she is dressed. Give her time to "be herself" even if it means getting up a bit earlier.



Remember that emotional and other life patterns are set in the FIRST 6 YEARS of life.....and we draw upon our experiences for the rest of our lives. Giving her the feeling that you must help....or she didn't do it good enough, etc. is not a positive thing to condition in her mind.

Jodie - posted on 04/07/2012

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Try a reward chart; my children are 6 and 9 but it would work for 3yrs+; we give them simple things they can earn a stamp for, things they normally do, like getting dressed, putting shoes on when told or for older children, making their own lunch/tea (sandwiches etc not hot food). At the end of the week, if they've earned enough stamps (or stickers) they can get a reward. Can also work if your child late at potty training, and they actually do it on the toilet or potty instead of in their nappy/pull-ups or undies.

Danielle - posted on 04/07/2012

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In reply to Sarah, you might want to make a point of spending quality time with her doing something special between just the two of you the faster she gets herself dressed in the morning. Maybe play a card/board game or read a special book or make breakfast together or make a snack/lunch for later in the day together.

Danielle - posted on 04/07/2012

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I'm like Karen-- I would race my now 12yo son when he was younger. I'd include my showering, doing my hair and getting dressed in there just to show him what a big headstart he was getting. Every once in awhile I'd pop my head in & brag about how much I got accomplished. If he was ahead of me, I tell him, "I'm gonna catch you!" It was said with lots of exaggerated voices & facial expressions ...kinda like when you're "racing" the kids while running :)



Ironically I kinda race my now 17yo daughter when she's really dragging. Guess this "old" mom is still pretty quick. hehe

Sarah - posted on 04/06/2012

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It sounds to me like she's really needing mommy time - you say an hour before you have to leave - is she at preschool/daycare? Often that's very tough on kids, esp since they have so little one on one help in a group setting.



She's asking for help, refusing to help isn't going to make her go faster, isn't going to teach her to be more proficient, but it will cause her to need more attention in other ways.



Instead how about provide the help happily without her asking (her not getting dressed without help is her way of asking). How about pretend she's a baby for a day or two when it's time to get dressed. Completely dress her as a baby, maybe even try spoon feeding her breakfast if she wants to take the game to that level. Spend a couple days just doing it completely - not asking her to at all. Make it a fun game (and I mean seriously YOU need to have fun) and I'm sure you'll see a huge change.



If you don't already, it also helps to have her choose her own outfits, even if that means she wears a costume for the day. My oldest wore a cinderella dress almost everyday for 3 months. It's an amazing reflection on you as a parent - you give her the freedom to make her own choices, to begin to learn her own style, to feel proud about her accomplishments, and gives her the knowledge that you trust her and respect her.



I highly suggest 'Playful Parenting" as a quick read to help smooth over those conflict ridden moments.

Katy - posted on 04/06/2012

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Set a timer. We had to do that for awhile for our 4 yo. It worked great. She loved to race it. Now I just send her on her own to do it and call up to her once in awhile to see how she is doing. Since her sister (19 months Old) is still eating and I don't really want to leave her at the table by herself.

Susan - posted on 04/06/2012

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When my eldest son was little and dragged to the point of being late for school, his teacher said next time bring him in with his pj's on. It will be the last time he ever dragged his feet again. I only had to use that once as a warning - he never gave me problems again.

Deanna - posted on 04/06/2012

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Don't take over. Be late. When you take over you are telling her you don't think she is doing it right.

Be patient. Be late. There is no place that important to get to.

Kate - posted on 04/06/2012

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My five year old will also still fall apart if something isn't right or if his sock or zip gets stuck or if the buttons are a little hard to do, and then we have to first calm him down and get him to the point where he'll let someone help. It helps to tell him that some things are tricky and take a lot of practice and it also took mommy and daddy a long time to learn how to do those things when we were little, and that's ok.

Otherwise a reward chart works for us. Some days where he just took forever for no reason, we've packed him into the car without shoes, for example, on (but taken them with us).

YeeSin - posted on 04/05/2012

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4 year old gets distracted easily!! My 4 year old usually dresses herself every morning. On some days, she takes her own sweet time, or drags her feet a little. I think it's just 4 year old being a 4 year old!

I use "let's race and see how gets ready first" with her, and that gets her going real quick! Although some days she just wants mama to do it all for her, and that's fine with me as long as that only happens once in a while.

Susan - posted on 04/05/2012

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I don't reward mine either as they have each other to race agaist. I thought of the reward only if the child was racing agaist a timer lol as it would give her something to aim for.

Dawn - posted on 04/05/2012

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My husband solved this problem with our daughter when she was this age, but it might be a "daddy only" solution. When I went to work full time & was at home with her, he would just tell her to get dressed. And she did. Some days it was overalls, some days sweat pants, and some days she choose from the dress up box! He took her to Head Start one day in a tutu, one rain boot, one tennis shoe, and her hair in 2 very messy lopsided pony tails. But she walked into that classroom beaming because her daddy told her how beautiful she was, and he was so proud of his big girl for doing it all on her own. She was four then.... He didn't confess about it until she was six or so. She'll be 16 in June, and I still laugh thinking of her heading to school with crazy outfits and an outrageous sense of accomplishment. Celebrate the small victories. Enjoy these days with her. Have fun and good luck :)

Karen - posted on 04/05/2012

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I do the race thing too only I have both of my kids try and beat me...I have my hair and makeup done and leave the dressing till last because what kid doesn't want to beat mom and or dad in a race....I don't reward them expect for looking all bummed when they win and giving them praises and telling them that tomorrow I am going I win..and sometimes I do just to keep it competitive....and fun so they don't think wow I always win and get bored with it..making t a game is the best thing plus it will encourage her to try and do the buttons and zippers and socks...even if they are not perfect they at least try...heck my 5 year old son still needs help with his socks but for the most part he puts them on and all I have to do is twist them into the right way....good luck...

Patricia - posted on 04/04/2012

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My daughter does everything by herself.. But there are times she wont at all.. I just say ": JAYLEE YOU DONT KNOW HOW TO DO IT, ONLY MOMMA HUH", it pumps her up and she wants to do it herself...Sometimes i have to hold her down to get dressed.. lol Her hair wont get done til she gets to school, becasuse when we are there she knows she has no choice.. But now i say you wanna do your own hair and she says YES so she puts it in her own ponytail, she's really good too

Jodie - posted on 04/04/2012

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Thanks for the comment Julie. I have actually tried that too but she just sits there and cries and says "I want Mama". I think my real problem is I have just gone on too long with getting her dressed myself instead of insisting that she does it herself.

Jodie - posted on 04/04/2012

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Thanks for the advice Joy. I appreciate your time. I do actually sit with her and I would help her if she needs it. I know what you mean about the attention span thing. Hers is pretty short too. But I get frustrated because I know (and she knows) she can do something and then just flat out refuses to do it. When she does do it, I congratulate her and tell her she did a good job and she is so proud of herself but then doesn't remember any of those feelings the next time. I am hoping to get to a point where she can dress herself without me being in the room (and she has actually done this a couple of times...just not a regular basis) but I know she is much too young to do it completely without my supervision.

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