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  • Writer's pictureApril Hartmann

How Your Toddler Can Build Growth Mindset by Learning to Get Dressed

Mom building growth mindset by teaching toddler girl to get dressed

When my daughter, Natalie, was a toddler she was fascinated with shoes. Throughout the day she would alternate between fuzzy slippers, shiny Mary Janes, velvet covered princess shoes, strappy sandals, or the bright yellow rain boots shown in the photo. She took pride in her ability to change them all by herself. On, off, on, off… all day long.

Toddler girl with growth mindset putting on boots
As a toddler, my daughter loved shoes of all kinds.

It was sweet.. while we were at home.

Then one day, I glanced around the front of the stroller to find she was missing a velcro sneaker. It was our last day at Disney World and we were heading to the airport… in TEN minutes.

Solving the mystery of the disappearing shoe is another story, and I‘ll get to that. The point here is that learning happens all the time…

…and everywhere.

Learning to get dressed is a skill that your toddler can begin to master very early and it has many benefits:

  • Improves gross and fine motor skills

  • Builds confidence

  • Develops resilience

  • Practices decision-making

  • Expresses individuality

dad helping toddler boy learn growth mindset getting dressed

Learning Happens Everywhere

Every new skill that a child learns is an opportunity to build growth mindset. For each struggle and each success, your toddler will experience the learning process. Will he grow up to embrace new challenges? Will she have confidence in her ability to learn new things? That depends upon how growth mindset is nurtured from an early age.

Dr. Lisa J Perlson, an Occupational Therapist and a leading child development expert, says this about persistence : “Everything is a learning experience. Learning doesn’t only happen at school or practice. Life itself it a learning experience. If you tried your best but didn’t succeed, learn from it. Why weren’t you successful? Was there something you could have done differently?”

Getting dressed is one of the first ways your toddler can learn persistence. It’s also a great way for you to foster a growth mindset in your toddler.

Mom building growth mindset by teaching baby girl to get dressed

It’s Important to Start Early

While there’s no magic age when children become interested in learning how to dress, the skills can be introduced before they are even one year old. Starting this early shows your baby that you have confidence in his capabilities. As your child grows and learns each new skill, it helps him feel more independent.

Getting dressed also builds motor skills. Your toddler will use just about every muscle in her body. It helps her learn coordination, flexibility, strength and balance.

Individuality is also encouraged when children dress themselves. When your toddler can choose his own clothes, he sees that he is capable of making decisions for himself and that doing so is enjoyable. “I want to wear this hat!”

toddler boy with individuality and growth mindset getting dressed

Self-Dressing Milestones

Children can fully dress and undress themselves by around the age of 3. Growth mindset can strongly impact this. Often, younger children in a family learn how to dress themselves earlier than older siblings did, likely from imitating the older child and expecting more from themselves. Having a positive mindset is clearly at work here.

Developmental steps:

12 months

  • Pull shoes off

  • Remove socks

  • Take hat on/off

  • Push arms and legs through garments

24 months

  • Zip and unzip a large zipper

  • Remove an unfastened shirt or jacket

  • Find armholes in pullover shirts

growth mindset toddler boy learning to get dressed

30 months

  • Pull pants up or down with assistance

  • Put shoes on with little assistance

  • Unbuttons large buttons

3 years

  • Put on pullover shirts with some help

  • Button large buttons

  • Pull pants up or down

3.5 years

  • Identify front of clothing

  • Snap fasteners

  • Button 3-4 buttons at a time

  • Unzip jacket zipper

4 years

  • Buckle belt

  • Zip jacket

  • Put on socks correctly

  • Identify front and back of clothing

preschool boy with growth mindset running

A Few Tips

To begin, teach your child how to undress. Children will do this quite naturally, as in the case of Natalie and her missing shoe.

Sitting down is the best position for teaching your child how to dress themselves. Show them which is the front and which is the back on each piece of clothing. Lay it on the floor in a helpful position to begin putting it on.

Mom building growth mindset by teaching toddler girl to get dressed

Teach your child clothing-related words. Identify the sleeve and collar of tops, and the waistband, leg, and seat of bottoms. Narrate as you dress them, so your child will have words to label the process. “Now let’s stick your hands through the sleeves.” This way they will have the vocabulary when they begin to dress themselves and you can talk them through the tricky parts, instead of jumping in to help.

“Find the collar. That’s the head-hole.”

“Look for the tags.”

“Look for square pockets on the seat of the pants.”

“Pull back the tongue of the shoe.”

“Hold both sides of the waistband.”

With each new skill, try the half-dressing technique. Only help your child with the hardest part of the clothing and let them do the rest. Resist the urge to help at the first sign of struggle.

father building growth mindset by teaching toddler girl to put on socks

Getting Past Resistance

If your child is resistant to dressing on their own, these fun tricks can be very empowering.

Coat Flip

Place the coat on the floor with the inside facing up. Stand facing the coat with your feet at the top. (Toes to tag!) Bend down and slip your hands into the sleeves. Flip the coat over your head as you stand up and push your arms through the sleeves.

Sticker Shoes

Cut a sticker in half and put the pieces on the insole of each shoe, so they match up when correctly placed side by side.

father building growth mindset by praising toddler boy for getting dressed

Build Self-Esteem

Helpful tricks aside, it’s still a necessary life skill to struggle with hard lessons. Sometimes, we all have to face feelings of discomfort when learning. On the other side of that is an enormous sense of pride when we have persisted in conquering a big challenge. By allowing your child to persist through discomfort, you are actually giving them the gift of self-esteem.

After your toddler has finished dressing, ask “How does it feel?”

illustration from growing baby learns to get dressed, by April Hartmann

By asking your child this question you will foster a sense of self-awareness. It also shows that she can trust herself to be in charge of her own body. Perhaps the neck feels funny if the shirt is on backwards. If her shoes are on the wrong feet, rather than telling her, see if she can figure it out with this tactic.

If it’s necessary to point out a mistake, don’t make a big deal out if it. Be sure to praise the part your toddler got right and simply tell her that mistakes are part of learning. Praise her for trying again even if it’s not a complete success.

building growth mindset by praising toddler for putting on shoes

Use Growth Mindset Encouragement and Praise

Learning to get dressed is an opportunity for your child to confront a struggle, identify feelings of frustration and to persist. It’s also an opportunity for you to build a habit of growth mindset praise.

You can say things like:

  • Would you like to try this by yourself?

  • Was that easy to do? You’re learning to do so many things all by yourself. How does that feel? Next time would like to do this other part all by yourself?

  • Oops, this part is a mistake. Do you want to fix it by yourself?

  • You had a problem to solve and you worked hard to figure it out.

illustration from growing baby learns to get dressed, by April Hartmann

  • Do you want to keep trying? It’s okay to ask for help.

  • I see that you are having a hard time with this. The feeling you are having is called “frustration.” Frustration happens when we don’t get what we want right away. Take your time to do this slowly and you will learn a new feeling. That feeling is “patience.”

illustration from growing baby learns to get dressed, by April Hartmann

It's important to make this a habit, but reading the above list one time won't do it. In order for growth mindset language to have an impact it needs to be consistent. With regular practice, toddlers can learn to praise THEMSELVES when they persist through discomfort. This promotes a positive self-talk about their own capabilities to learn.

Teach growth mindset to toddlers with the book, Growing Baby Learns to get Dressed, by April Hartmann

Read Children’s Books Together

Books are a powerful resource for fostering a growth mindset in kids. Here you can download My Little Growing Mindset books. They are filled with internal scripts that help toddlers with their thought processes in solving a problem. Instead of repeating a single phrase, the text includes questions and observations.

Books are also a great way for parents to build a habit of using growth mindset language. By reading these books repeatedly, a new habit forms so it becomes second nature to always interact with your child this way. Growth mindset, as with all new skills, requires practice.

Teach growth mindset to toddlers with the free eBook, Growing Baby Learns to get Dressed, by April Hartmann

Learning to Get Dressed shows toddlers learning to put on their clothing, and is written for a slightly advanced developmental level in order to inspire your child. With this, your child sees the process and the achievement. The stories show that mistakes and feelings of frustration are a normal part of learning.

Go to the eBooks page at right now to download an entire series of growth mindset stories. New eBook titles are released frequently, so be sure to subscribe for reminders.

toddler boy with growth mindset

Sole Searching

Let’s be real. Throughout our busy days, it can be difficult to patiently wait for a child to struggle with something that we could quickly do for them. All the more reason to make growth mindset parenting a habit, rather than a special occasion. Plus, once they learn to dress themselves, it will actually save you time.

When children are treated as competent individuals, they build resilience. It also shows that we value their expression of uniqueness, and that their choices are important. What seems like a small thing now, can greatly impact your child’s mindset and become a habit for how you parent every day as they grow.

growth mindset learning to get dressed

Today, Natalie is a teen and her enthusiasm for shoes is thriving. Her collection includes canvas high tops, cowboy boots, athletic shoes in multiple swoosh colors, high heels with long ballet straps, and even a pair of lace-up platform boots. It’s clearly a way that she expresses herself as an individual. Fortunately she has learned to not kick them off and abandon them while traveling!

As for the missing shoe, we backtracked our steps and enlisted others to make a quick sweep. Luckily it was found by Natalie’s aunt at the last souvenir shop we had visited. She met us at the airport with the prized possession. Cinderella did not have to go home shoeless!



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