Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Teaching a Toddler to Put on His own Coat: The Importance of Independence

Yesterday I urged parents to teach their toddlers skills at an early age, even if it is something that the parent can do much more quickly for her child. Here's an example of that....teaching your toddler how to put on his own coat.

This is one of the skills we teach the children fairly early in the year. Believe it or not, there are many steps involved in the process:
1. The child needs to be sure the sleeves aren’t inside out.
2. He must lay it out on the rug so that it’s wide open.
3. He must be sure he is standing at the hood or tag.
4. He needs to bend over so he can put his hands and part of his arms into the sleeves.
5. He now has to flip it over without it falling off his arms.
6. Finally, he pushes his arms completely into the sleeves, and voila!

For many kids, it only takes a couple of times before they have the motion down. The first several times they are successful, they shout “I did it!” with glee. They are so very proud of themselves.

Other kids have more trouble. One boy, Freddy, simply couldn’t remember that his hood needed to be between his legs. Therefore, every time he flipped the jacket over his head, it was upside down, with the hood trailing between his legs. For a few days, we told him that he had done a wonderful job putting his coat on all by himself, but it was upside down. We encouraged him to try it again the right way. Unfortunately, Freddy got really frustrated that he always had to flip his jacket a second time. So, one day, even though his coat was on upside down, we let him leave the classroom as he was. It wasn’t cold outside and his pride in putting on his jacket by himself seemed to outweigh the fact that it was on wrong.

Freddy’s mother, not understanding our motives, was unhappy that we let him leave the classroom with his coat on upside down. She initially believed that we just hadn’t noticed. My teaching partner invited Freddy’s mother to come into the classroom so she could explain why he was dressed that way. She told his mother about his frustration and how important we felt it was to encourage his success.

“Today, when we noticed that he was really struggling, we wanted him to know that we appreciated how hard he was trying and that he was being persistent,” she explained. "We thought it would be better for him to concentrate more on what he did right than what he did wrong. Today, we wanted him to have an opportunity to really feel good and not frustrated by what he had done.”

The teacher suggested that Freddy take his coat off and show his mother how he can put it on all by himself. She reminded him to stand with the hood between his legs. Voila! He put it on the right way. Now, both his mother and his teacher were praising his independence and telling him how proud they were that he put his coat on by himself. Sure, it would have been quicker for Freddy’s mother to put his coat on herself, but without trial and error, he’d never learn to do it on his own.

Give your kids the time and opportunity to try to do things for themselves. You have to be patient, and you have to encourage them to be patient as well. It takes practice to master any new skill, and for a toddler, it may take many tries for success.


  1. Even toddlers can learn how to put on their own jacket. As soon as kids can walk and stand steadily on their own, they can be taught to put on their own outer coat using this simple method. Being able to dress themselves is a big step along the way.

  2. The overhead flip is an excellent and easy method for putting coats on.

    And also a fun game - see here:


    Hope you enjoy!