When a child says “I do it myself” most adults are thrilled. Kids with low muscle tone want to do things like the big kids too, including dressing themselves, but they often end up in a tangle of sleeves or twisted pant legs. Here are a few suggestions to make learning to get dressed and managing clothing for toilet training and for life in general easier.
- Select clothes that are easy to get on and off. That means that they should be a little loose, a little stretchy, and not too long. Tops that hang down over the tush have to be rolled up for a little girl to sit on the potty. A top that ends at the waist cannot fall into the bowl. Lycra leggings or tight jeans with zipper fasteners are harder to manage independently. If your child is just getting the hang of pulling on/pushing off clothes, adding fasteners is making this a lot harder. Opt for elastic waistbands over any other style, and knit fabrics with some cotton. These don’t cling as closely. Shorter sleeves and pant legs without a knit cuff are easier to get on and off.
- Kids with low tone aren’t that stable in standing without support can sit on a low step stool with feet flat on the floor to get dressed, preferably with the stool against a wall so they don’t fall backwards. No stool? You can try sitting on the lowest stair step. Also try leaning their back against a wall. Sitting on the floor (with a few exceptions) is less successful than what therapists call “short sitting” for kids with low tone. They tend to w-sit or roll their backs when floor sitting, so that they are way off balance and reasonably fearful of tipping over. This makes it harder to slide legs into pants and raise arms up into sleeves. Sitting on a stool can put a child’s hips in a more stable position to activate the muscles from trunk to toes for more stability. Bonus round: these are the same muscles a child needs for walking and running!
- Re-think getting dressed in standing. These kids are used to being dressed, sometimes well past 3 years of age, so they are going to be familiar with standing while the clothing is pulled off of them or pulled up. They will want to just step into pants while you hold the waist of the pants. Changing their attitude from “you dress me” to I dress myself” is huge. Adults do not realize what goes into dressing because they have been independent for so long. Try to imagine royalty getting those amazing gowns and tiaras on with the help of assistants, versus getting all that clothing on by themselves. Totally different execution. They would have to pay attention and make a plan. If your child has issues with sequencing movement as well as postural control issues, this part of learning to get dressed may be the bigger hurdle. Your little prince or princess has to change his/her mindset, paying attention to movements and balance in a new way. This can start in baby steps. Just finishing the removal of his arms from the sleeves of a shirt while you turn away for a second builds awareness and practice. Then add pulling the arm out of a sleeve that you hold taut at the wristband. Keep adding more steps as the child builds skills.
- Distractions and rewards. If a child is used to being dressed in front of the TV, that will have to change. Learning a new skill while watching “Paw Patrol” isn’t going to work. Watching it as a reward for learning a new skill is a better plan.
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