Function Over Fashion
Function over Fashion: How to Take the Stress Out of Getting a Toddler Dressed
After 10 + years on the teacher side of life, I always wondered why parents would send their children in crazy outfits. Sometimes the children would come to class a tutu over their sweat pants, or shorts that were two sizes too big. Once I became a mom myself, it became more clear to me what was happening.
When I had my first child, I started off putting him in matching tops and bottoms and the cutest onesies. Everything was stored and organized in his drawers in matching sets. He had overalls and rompers with about a million snaps and buttons. He was adorable, and I loved it. Logan was my little baby doll that I would dress up, until it was time for toilet learning. This is when the “Montessori Toddler teacher” in me woke up the “crazy mommy” side of me. This kid was ready to start caring for himself. In fact, he had been ready to do it a lot longer than I had realized. My poor child had no real clue how to get his pants on or off of his body without my undivided attention.
This realization was my wake up call. It was time to stop being proud of how adorable he was, and let him become proud of himself for learning how to dress himself. My child started wearing the pants and shoes a few sizes too big so they would be looser and a little easier to get on and off by his hand more than my own. His shirts no longer had buttons that his tiny fingers were not ready to do on his own. And, we said bye-bye for now to anything with a zipper in the crotch.
One of the biggest rewards I find as a parent and as a Montessori Toddler teacher is gifting a child the tools necessary to “do it himself”. We start modeling self-care from the beginning with even the youngest children. The children are shown to push in their chairs, put work back on the shelves and make their own snack when they are hungry. They are also given the freedom to figure out dressing and undressing while using the toilet and getting diaper changes. The children start with pulling their own pants up and down with gentle guidance from the teachers, merely to help reduce frustration. A child is most successful when there are fewer opportunities for frustration. Buttons and zippers are items that often cause frustrations and accidents when toddlers are using the toilet. Just like work in the classrooms, clothing options should be provided that match a child’s individual skill set. Holding off on things like the buttons and zippers until the skill has been mastered can not only give your child a better success rate in the bathroom, but also help build their confidence because they are not plagued with having to change their clothes due to unnecessary accidents.
It is amazing to watch the pride fill a child’s face the first time they successfully do anything by themselves. Why wouldn’t we want to make it a little easier on them so they can feel the pride of their accomplishments? So, bring on the tutu’s and the backward pants that are a little too big, as long as a child did it themselves. They may not always be camera ready, but they are learning to be ready for life. Offer a limited and appropriate selection of items to wear and let the child choose, such as two outfits that can easily be mixed and matched. In our house, we use a cubby shelf and each child has 6 outfits for the week that they help pick out. They learned quickly that they can do whatever they want with the items in the cubbies. This helps my daughter, who loves choices, and saves me from her trying to pick from every pretty thing she has in her closet. It also helps my son who isn’t very good at making a choice pick something appealing to him. Dr. Montessori teaches us to provide choices and freedom within limits. This can successfully be applied to toddler/preschooler fashion.
Thankfully, Logan never looked back and has never missed having buttons on his pants, and he is closer to 5 years old than this mom’s heart can handle at times. I stopped getting in his way. I gave him time to try and problem solve which eventually lead to the little man who can now get up and dressed for school without assistance, except for the reminders here and there to stay on task. But that is a topic for another day.
A great resource is, How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way by Tim Seldin.