Dress, Undress, Repeat

Story by May 10, 2016

Mercedes Paine Castle, Assistant to Infancy and Pedagogical Director at Portland Montessori Collaborative, gives key advice on assisting your child with dressing to ease the transition from school to home.

Supporting your child’s independence in dressing and undressing at home can make a difference in how successful they are in such activities at school.

An inconsistent expectation between home and school might create disharmony. If we are asking a child to do something that they have limited experience with at home, this may be frustrating, and the learning process may take longer. When parents and teachers work together in service of the child, we can limit these frustrations and misunderstandings.

At school, the teachers start breaking down the steps to pushing off pants, removing diapers, and sitting on the toilet from infancy. Our expectation of the child changes as they grow and mature, and we are always observing each child for their signs of readiness for the next level of difficulty. Together, we work towards a goal that elicits a maximum effort, gained through cooperation and effort towards a new or higher skill level. In our experience, children under two years of age are successful in taking off and putting on their shoes and clothing. Regardless of age, the teachers approach dressing and undressing as a practical life skill, and encourage children to be as independent as possible in these endeavors.

In our school, we support each child in their unique place of their own development. Important growth and development happens when children negotiate and overcome challenges. The feeling of accomplishment that one gets when a challenge is overcome is the reinforcer and the independence that the child achieves is their reward for successfully negotiating a problem or acquiring a new skill.

This feeling of accomplishment is what encourages perseverance in the face of difficulty. These relatively small accomplishments of basic skills reward the curious, encourage problem solving as transformative play, and they form the solid foundation on which a healthy sense of self is built. They will become the kind of person who challenges themselves in learning new skills and exploring new cultures throughout their life. They will try even when they are not positive that they will succeed. They will be carried forward by their intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation will authentically motivate an individual to successfully negotiate the world around them.

In our classrooms, we focus on encouragement as opposed to praise. When we encourage a child, their intrinsic motivation is supported through thoughtful words and caring gestures. When supporting this idea of intrinsic motivation we recognize that feedback that places value on the teacher’s approval or disapproval is counterproductive. Instead of saying “Good job” we might instead say “Wow, you worked really hard and you got those pants on all by yourself! Now you are ready to go play outside.” or maybe “Was that ‘I can’ or ‘I can’t’?” or “ Who put those pants on? You did! All by yourself!”

Instead of saying “Good job” we might instead say “Wow, you worked really hard and you got those pants on all by yourself!"

Along with encouragement we are sure to give them the time that they need to negotiate the task at hand. When we do things for the child that they are capable of doing on their own we deny them the experiences that they may need to grow. Specifically, we remove opportunities for a child to negotiate their own needs and practice being independent. Becoming proficient at dressing is a process, and children need lots of practice in order to get better at it. The more practice the better. Many young children are drawn to their cubbies and the bathroom, driven by their own unconscious desire to understand and become proficient in this process.

Here are some ways that you can support your child in dressing and undressing at home:

You can support your child at school in dressing and undressing by making sure that their clothing is weather appropriate, media free (except for underpants), and hold the promise of successful independent operation. The best type of pants have an elastic waistband and wide leg holes. The best shirts have a large neck opening, free of snaps and buttons, and are loose enough to operate independently. Slip on or velcro fastened shoes are ideal. Clothing and shoes should fit properly.

With parents and teachers working together to bring our expectations of the child into harmony, we serve the child in their growth and development. We support the child in learning how to dress and undress. When we liberate the child from their dependence on adults for these self care routines, we free them to experience a deeper sense of connection with the adults in their lives and a sense of accomplishment that they carry with them on their life journey.

About Mercedes
Mercedes Paine Castle is an Assistant to Infancy and Pedagogical Director at Portland Montessori Collaborative (pdxMC). She has been guiding infants and toddlers towards independence since 2003.

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