There’s a certain joy that stems from the freedom to dress your kids, putting them in the cutest outfits that you wished your own parents dressed you in as you were growing up. But when you see young children parading around like miniature adults on Instagram, how do you know when you’ve gone too far? When should you encourage your children to begin picking out their own outfits?

The ability to dress oneself may be a sign that your child is growing up, but there’s more to self-dressing than meets the eye. Parents wouldn’t normally view their kid’s desire to have freedom in their closet as a milestone in development, especially at such a young age. Karen Ruskin, Psy.D., LMFT, however, does explain that there’s a reason we should start teaching little ones how to button up a shirt or wear socks before putting on sneakers as early as at 2 years of age. The very act of choosing your own clothes sets the foundation for numerous critical skills, such as fine motor skills, and will have positive psychological and emotional effects on toddlers as their confidence builds.

As small as this skill may seem, giving your kids this liberty shows that you trust in their abilities, which in turn will build their self-esteem. This confidence, together with other skills honed in at preadolescence, will prepare for other situations that require them to make their own decisions. Adults may argue over the misconception that kids don’t fully understand what they like and want, especially when they’re toddlers, though the reality is they are quite aware of their likes and want a sense of control in terms of their appearance.

Sure, we’ll need to guide them in outfit choices if they’re not dressed warmly enough for winter or missing the protective gear they need on a rainy day, but we must also remember to give them as many outlets for creativity and individuality as we can in order for them to be comfortable in their own skin, and grow to be the self-reliant adult we wish them to be. As the children’s clothing designer Kate Pietrasik explains in one of her blog posts, “We should be providing our children with a childhood void of limitation, free from restrictions and full of opportunity.”

What exactly needs to be done in order to get your kids to dress themselves? Every child is different; some will love the idea, while others will be reluctant to put any clothes on. The key is to have an accessible and attractive wardrobe in terms of its contents and the design of the closet. The clothes need to be organized in a way that works for your kids, whether that means labeling drawers by clothing type, day of the week, or weather. A stool, open shelving, easy-to-pull drawers are also necessary, and decorate the closet with visual appeal to lure your child’s attention to the wardrobe. For the clothes, t-shirts may not be the best place to start, as they may be difficult for toddlers to slip their heads through. Think snap buttons, zippers, Velcro straps, and slip-ons as the starting point to your child’s independence.

Written by Anika Gwen
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