Dressing Independently

At 6, many kids are still dressed by their parents. At what point should you encourage your child to tie her shoes and button her shirt independently?
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Frank Heckers

Q: My husband says I'm babying our daughter when I help her zip up her pants, button her shirt, or tie her shoes. Is he right?

A: Yes and no. "Six is an incredibly inconsistent age," according to Jacqueline Haines, director of the Gesell Institute in New Haven, CT. "There will be some days when you'll find that your 6-year-old can do all her buttoning, zipping, and tying on her own, and then there will be other days when she can't or won't do it because her mind is on other things."

As a general rule, it's a good idea to encourage your child to do the things that you know she can do by herself. "Encouraging her independence may involve using frequent reminders, such as 'Don't forget to tie your shoes' or 'Your buttons need buttoning,'" says Haines. But parents also need to remember that it's okay to assist your child in dressing herself from time to time. "If your daughter asks for help, you won't be babying her if you comply," Haines emphasizes. "It's much better for parents just to go ahead and help dress their child at this age than to make an issue of it, which often ends up triggering a power struggle. By the time your daughter is 6½ or a little bit older, she probably won't ask for help with dressing herself as much. In fact, you may feel a bit strange because she no longer asks for your help frequently."

In the meantime, as with all issues involving childrearing, you and your husband should try to support each other. Haines says, "Kids feel more secure and well-cared-for when their parents agree on what to do."

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