Our twins are just starting to stand on their own, which is making getting them dressed a bit harder than they used to be. For one thing, my son especially would prefer to stand rather than lie back and let me work. If I let him stand, he takes that as a signal to practice walking. Both of them tend to freak out when I start putting the neck hole of their shirt over their head. Instead of making a fist, they like to splay their fingers as I slide the sleeves on. When there are things to go on the feet (socks, shoes, footed pajamas, etc.), they curl their toes in an awkward manner. You get the picture.

Step one is to find a way to make the changing process work better for now. But looking forward to the future, are there habits we can get into now that will make self-dressing work better when the time comes?

  • 6
    Spray-on latex.
    – Christian
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 2:08
  • 4
    It's a good thing that title didn't appear on the cooking discussion...
    – keshlam
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 1:49
  • Put a sock over their hands before pushing it through the shirt ;)
    – major-mann
    Commented Mar 22, 2014 at 10:15

5 Answers 5


The words "efficient" and "toddler" don't really go together. Mostly, you just have to accept that things like getting dressed will take a lot longer while they are learning, and plan time in your schedule for it*. There are a few tricks that can make it a little easier, though.

  • Have one parent hold the child still and assist while the other does the dressing. You probably do a lot of "divide and conquer" with twins, but this approach can save you aggravation, if not time.
  • If you're the only parent around, and the child wants to stand, try sitting on a chair and holding him between your legs.
  • It's a little hard to explain in words, but for a shirt, scrunch up with both hands around the neck hole so there's just a couple inches thickness to pop over his head all at once. There's no freaking out when you start, because you're done pretty much as soon as you start.
  • You can scrunch socks or footy pajamas in the same way.
  • For arms, it's much easier to put your own hand through from the outside, grab his hand, and pull it through, than to try to push his hand and arm through from the inside. He will want to do it himself eventually, but that works very well in the mean time.

* Even after they are experts at completely dressing themselves, you still have to plan extra time in your schedule, because when you think they are getting dressed while you're showering, they're actually doing something like peanut buttering the cat.

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    Burst out laughing from reading the footnote. Coworker who was walking by the office gave me a weird look...
    – Doc
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 21:26
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    Having them stand and holding them between your legs is a GREAT method, and as an added tip, whole doing this practice touching the back of their leg and saying "up" then lifting the leg up. Then say "down" (or push, or whatever you want) as they (usually naturally do) put their leg down and into the pants. At this stage they are a lot like dogs, and you want to get them to learn the motions and commands, then you can work on autonomy.
    – Jax
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 22:36
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    One does not simply put a shirt over a toddlers head with "no freaking out" no matter how perfect your scrunching. The moment you put the shirt a few inches above my daughter's head, she starts defensively shaking her head to avoid the upcoming event which is apparently somewhere between alien medical exams and waterboarding.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 20:52
  • I guess it depends on the child. It worked for all of mine. Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 20:54

In my experience, we had stages roughly like this:

  • 12 months: Put arms through sleeves. Prior to this I began by puting shirt over neck, then positioned the hand in the arm hole, and then getting him to move his arm through the sleeve. That moved into him finding the arm holes mostly on his own by 12-15 months. That's probably the single biggest time saver.
  • 15-18 months: Begin allowing to pick out own clothes. This was an important step, as it transitioned from being annoyed about dressing to being interested. He went back and forth (and from this point on I talk only about our elder son, as our younger son is 12 months old currently); sometimes he'd pick them out, sometimes he'd ask us to choose ("Daddy pick"). But either way, once he started having a choice, his complaints about dressing dropped dramatically. It also gives you another carrot/stick to help move things along; "You need to start picking before I count to 3 or I'm going to pick" works wonders.
  • 18 months: put shoes on. Around 18 months we were to get him to put on his shoes from 'unbuckled' stage. This was really helpful, because he enjoyed buckling - so once he could do this a little, he quickly wanted to learn how to do it better, in particular since he knew it was something that was a precursor to playing outside.
  • 24 months: put on pants. This began around 18 months with letting me put a leg in the beginning and pushing the rest of the way through; by 24 months he was coordinated enough to put his leg through himself. I still (32 months) do most of this, but that's just for speed; he could do it if he wanted to, and does on his own sometimes.
  • 24 months: Put on coat. This is another one where he was excited to do it. This came from daycare, in the concept of 'Flippy Coat'. A bit over 24 months (based on his summer birthday, of course) they taught the 2 year old class to do this, where you lay out the coat on the ground, back down, head facing the child, open. The child puts his arms through the sleeves (apparently backwards at this point - facing the coat) and then 'flips' the coat over his head, getting it into position correctly. This is a lot of fun, and also is something where if your child likes to go out in the snow or cold, encourages them to learn it, similar to a dog grabbing his leash; the child puts on his coat to encourage you to go outside (or understands it's a necessary step).

In terms of how to physically do it, the main thing is to be firm. It's sort of like pulling off a bandaid; as long as you do it in one smooth, firm motion, there's a minimum of crying, and the child will get used to it. Shirts are pretty easy for me; once you get the head through, the child will usually want to help out with the arms.

In terms of legs, if standing doesn't work (it mostly does for us), hold them on your lap with one arm while putting the leg through with the other, having the holding-arm hand available to help hold part as needed, or to help hold the leg straight (grasp the calf, slide the pants up to that point, then usually it is easy from there). Get one leg on all the way before moving to the other. Also, soft pants are much easier than jeans (and that could be an issue - my sons both dislike denim and will struggle far more with denim than with soft pants, so we gave up on denim entirely).


Toddler? One word: Smartphone.

There is some great advice above, but in an emergency popping Elmo or a basketball game on a phone and handing it to the toddler can be a bailout when they are frustrated. Somewhat counterintuitively it even helps them focus on the hand that's going through a sleeve by having a big phone clenched in the other hand.

We're not a TV house and not particularly heavy on media in general, but this situation (even moreso the famous Poopy Diaper-Handsy Toddler Scenario) can sometimes call for a hack.

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    Here, here! While some say it has negative effects to offer children handheld devices, those people aren't at my house when the screaming begins. Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 10:40
  • I have been surprised that they tend to do better with a toy than without. At this age they seem to enjoy the challenge of transferring an object from one hand to the other. Since phones go right into a mouth, we tend to not let our children hold them. But that's likely to change soon enough. Thanks for the suggestion and welcome to Parenting Stack Exchange. Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 20:01
  • Cars work well for my older son (2.75 yo). They transfer well and can be squeezed through an armhole in a pinch if he's trying to be difficult :)
    – Joe
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 12:52
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    @ChristopherW The two biggest negative effects I've found in that regard are 1) the safety of the phone and 2) "can I watch videos?" all day. But honestly, if it wasn't videos on a smart phone, it would be Dora on the TV, or riding a bike outside. Kids always want to do the things they aren't presently/can't presently do, whether there's electronics involved or not.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 20:55

I'll often sit with my legs crossed, set them in my lap, plop the head through the neck hole, then reach through the sleeves, grab their hands, and pull them through. Then I put their legs in the pants, stand them up while I'm still sitting and pull their pants up the rest of the way, and their shirt down.

As they grow I work on having them lift their legs at the appropriate times, and putting their arms through the sleeves themselves.

But if it needs to get done quickly regardless of their current attitude, this works pretty well. If they're grumpy I can usually play a little with them getting up and me grabbing them and sitting them back down, "Hey, get back here!" a few times to get them laughing, then dress them suddenly and keep playing.

During the process I'll also tell them what I'm doing. After a few times of, "Head in the shirt... arms in the shirt... legs in the pants..." they pick up on it and know what to expect, and get a little advance warning for each step.


I just plop the t-shirt over their head and let them have fun finding the arm-holes.

For pants and shoes, I just lift one of their feet, causing them to instinctively reach for the nearest hand-hold to keep their balance--usually my ear or hair.

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