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Brighter Days: 5 Tips for Dressing Your Baby

Jennifer Bright on

As your baby nears her first birthday, she is probably helping you to help her get dressed. For example, she'll probably hold her arms out to help put on her shirt. Sometime between 13 and 20 months, your toddler will probably figure out how to take off her own clothes. This is helpful at home -- and not so helpful at the grocery store. It could make for some funny stories to share with her friends when she's a teenager though. When your toddler is around 20 months old, she'll probably be able to put on loose-fitting clothing herself. She might not be able to dress herself completely until she's around 3 years old.

Here's what our Mommy M.D.s -- doctors who are also mothers -- do to help dress their own older babies and toddlers.

"I think the key to the toddler years is giving toddlers choices with limits," says Deborah Gilboa, M.D., a mom of four sons, a family physician with Squirrel Hill Health Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a resilience expert whose advice is found at AskDoctorG.com. "For example, I'd never send my toddler to his closet to pick out an outfit! Instead, I would get out two shirts, and I ask him, 'Do you want to wear this shirt or that shirt?' Toddlers are all about autonomy. That's wonderful, but if you give them too many choices, they will drive you bananas."

"When my daughters were toddlers, they had strong opinions about everything including what they wanted to wear," says Cathy Marshall, M.D., a mom of three daughters and a pediatrician in private practice, in Encino, California. "I was careful to use language that was nonadversarial to them. I also gave them choices. 'Would you like to wear this outfit or that one?' I'd ask. That way they got to choose, but either way, they were wearing something acceptable to me."

"People by nature like choices, and toddlers are no exception," says Dana S. Simpler, M.D., a mom of two grown daughters and a son and a specialist in internal medicine in private practice, in Baltimore, Maryland. "Whenever possible, I gave my toddlers choices on how they wanted to get dressed. 'Would you like to put your shirt on first or your pants?; I'd ask, for example. Whichever my toddler chose, I was happy."

"One of the biggest challenges I have with my toddlers is their desire to be independent," says Sharon Boyce, M.D., a mom of two sons and a family physician at DayOne Family Healthcare Clinic, in Battle Creek, Michigan. "For example, they don't want to get dressed in the morning. They want to be off doing something else. I remember one day, I was trying to get my younger son dressed. He had his toothbrush in one hand, and he did not want to let that toothbrush go. I tried to explain to him that it was very difficult to take his pajamas off and put his T-shirt on while he was holding onto that toothbrush. This good logic got me nowhere. I had to take the toothbrush out of my son's hand, set it down, quickly swap out the PJs for the shirt, and then give him the toothbrush back. It's helpful to remember that this phase won't last forever."

 

When to Call the Doctor

Children start being able to dress and undress themselves around age 3, progressing to being able to dress without help at around age four. However, your child will master a developmental skill like dressing at her own pace, so don't be worried if your child is taking longer.

Instead, consider all of the signs of a developmental delay. Call your doctor if your child has any of the following signs by age 3 or 4.

-- Won't dress, use the toilet or sleep on her own.

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