Get dressed

Emma McKinney
By Emma McKinney
4 Min Read

Some children with disabilities experience difficulty performing activities of daily living (ADLs), such as eating, bathing and toileting. Here we look at the activity of dressing

Dressing is an important aspect of independent and daily living. It involves a number of skills including fine motor (fastening buttons and zips); gross motor (standing on one leg to pull on a pair of jeans); cognitive (remembering which clothing goes on which body part); language (naming the colours, types, sizes); and awareness of time and space (what clothes we wear in summer, for differing occasions, etc).

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Fasten small loops into the waist of trousers, skirts or shorts, which can be used to pull on clothing.
  • Some children find it easier to “wriggle” into clothing while lying on their backs or sides on a bed or the floor.
  • Let the child hold or lean onto walls, chairs, counters or rails for support.
  • Get a child to use their other leg, arm, elbow etc to push down or kick or push off clothing.
  • If a child has a weaker limb, encourage them to dress that one first.
  • Use shoes with a Velcro fastener or elastic instead of laces.
  • Choose appropriate shoes/boots sizes for children using aids such as AFOs/splints.
  • Let the child put on their shoes while seated on the floor, in a chair or wheelchair. Some find it easier to cross their legs or pull one foot across the body.
  • Use Velcro strips, elastic or draw-string instead of clasps, buckles and buttons on clothing.
  • Play games and teach fastening rhymes to teach shoe lace typing (i.e. 1 loop method, 2 loop method – bunny ears).
  • Start by teaching a child to undress: it is easier to take clothes off than to put them on.
  • Start with easy-to-dress clothing. Underwear is often easier to pull on or take off.
  • Make sure that you give a child sufficient time to get dressed, and praise and encourage them.
  • Let the child select their clothes: this often encourages and motivates them to self-dress.

There are some fun games to encourage children with dressing especially if they need some practice and motivation. These include:

  • Timing: when a child is more confident, use a stopwatch to time how long it takes the child to dress. The following day play it again and encourage the child to improve their speed.
  • Dress up paper dolls: have a selection of winter and summer clothes and accessories such as hats and scarves. Let the child choose how they would like to dress their doll. This is a fun game for children who are not able to dress themselves, as they still get to make their own choices.
  • Bread tag and ribbon game: Have a piece of wide ribbon and get the child to clip on the plastic bread tags. This helps with fine motor development, assisting with zipping and buttoning.
  • Button, zip and lace book: make a material book and sew old zips and buttons and laces of differing sizes, shapes and colours onto each page for the child to choose and practise with.

Dr Emma McKinney is a “children with disabilities” specialist, a post doctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University and owns a company called Disability Included. email:

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Emma McKinney
By Emma McKinney Children with Disabilities Specialist
Dr Emma McKinney is a “children with disabilities” specialist, a post doctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University and owns a company called Disability Included.
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