Allowing children to develop independence and capability is one of the many commonly shared principles between Montessori and Positive Discipline.
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” ― Maria Montessori
“Never do anything for a child that a child can do for himself.” – Rudolf Dreikurs
“Provide guidance and have faith in your children to learn and grow from mistakes.” – Jane Nelsen
All the above quoted authors have warned about the drawbacks of continuously doing things for the child that he is developmentally ready of doing for himself. Self-help skills such as dressing and undressing take practice for a child to successfully learn and even the most well-meaning parent may not always see the child’s natural need to learn or have the time for it.
Busy family schedules, for example, often contribute to rushed departures and it may seem easier for parents, or other family members to “help” the young child get prepared for the day ahead for fear of getting late. It may certainly be more convenient to put socks and shoes on the child’s feet to avoid fussing or risk getting them out the door bare footed, and it may surely be faster to put sweaters on them without running into frustrating situations. But our genuine inclination to “help” them often comes as a disservice to their natural need in achieving independence and developing their capability.
Here are a few suggestions guided by Montessori and Positive Discipline principles parents may want to try at home while helping their child dress independently:
Engage the child in the process; start from a very young age, while changing your child’s clothing you can engage him in being an active participant by inviting movement on his part; getting his diaper changed while standing up is a useful way to bring awareness in the process of dressing, he can learn to pull his pants up, put his feet in his shoes, his hands through the sleeves instead of having you continuously doing it all for him.
Allow time for learning; the moment before you step out the door is not the best time to teach your child how to dress. It takes patience and more time on your side to be able to convey a positive atmosphere; a few extra minutes lost from your time are priceless learning opportunities for your child!
Believe in your child’s capability; even after multiple failed trials at putting something on, your child needs to know that you are supportive of him and that you have faith in him. “Show Faith” is a very powerful Positive Discipline parenting tool that helps children develop courage and become problem solvers. Dr. Jane Nelsen talks about this and many other tools in her blog.
One step at a time; your child won’t learn to do it all in one day and taking “small steps” is another great Positive Discipline parenting tool and Montessori principle to implement. When you break down the process into steps and build up on the skills your child already has, he will be more successful with dressing himself. For example, if your child can easily pull his pants up after using the restroom or potty, he is can learn how to put them on next. If he knows how to wear a t-shirt, he can lean to put it back inside out and then learn how to fold it.
Provide helpful tools; for the young child who puts a shoe on the wrong foot, a sticker placed inside the shoes to mark the right side from the left provides a great self-correcting visual. For the toddler who gradually gains more control of his body, a small bench/stool near the dresser/potty area where he can sit to wear his pants or underwear proves to be very encouraging to the child.
Opt for easy to wear clothing; young children look very cute wearing accessories and intricately designed clothing pieces but most of them are not very comfortable or functional. Pants with elastic waistbands, leggings, loose cotton shirts or Velcro closed-toe shoes are ideal choices for children beginning to dress on their own.
Give the child a choice; when you involve your child in choosing what to wear the night before, he is more likely going to be willing to dress by himself.
Include the child in caring for clothes; young children have an inner need of performing tasks like the adults around them, they love to help. Toddlers and preschoolers can successfully put the dirty laundry in the hamper; assist you in washing it, sorting it, folding it and organizing the storage space for it.
And finally, remember that it’s all in the attitude, have fun doing this with your child!
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