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Should we let children dress themselves?

Curiosity is a crucial part of human nature. So here at Playtime we are asking ourselves, and you, the question “Should children be allowed to dress themselves?” There are many different theories on how old children should be, how much they should be able to decide, if it’s for their benefit or efficiency when parents help them get dressed, and several other follow up questions that stem from this topic. Some questions that come from this one are pertinent to retailers and brands. Should stores be designed to be more child accessible? Should child models be involved in the styling process at all?

Join us as we explore these different ideas and contribute your opinion on our Instagram!

kid's fashion

One answer to this question comes from the theory of Montessori Parenting. First pioneered by Italian Dr. Maria Montessori, this parenting style emphasizes independence, communication, mutual respect, and allowing children to develop at their own pace. “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed” is a quote from Dr. Montessori that sums up this concept.

According to the Montessori method of parenting, children should certainly be allowed to dress themselves. It argues that even 1 to 2 year-olds are able to put on their shoes, if they are given the time to do so. When parents help them, it is often to have the task done quickly, rather than guiding and teaching their children. Of course, depending on the child’s age, this method of getting dressed requires time and patience from parents. Accomplishing new tasks for kids sometimes takes longer than we can imagine!

This method of parenting is increasing in popularity, which poses further questions for retailers. Should stores be more child-friendly? Should there be lower, open shelving that allows kids to explore merchandise for themselves? Montessori is about creating prepared spaces that are safe, but accessible for children to discover for themselves. This theory also supports conscious consumption and eco-friendly products that are safe for kids to discover, even if that means putting them in their mouths!

kid's fashion

Another perspective is that letting our little ones get dressed can be a big deal. This simple act can let them begin the day with a sense of accomplishment. It can also help teach kids how to be more self-sufficient and independent, while developing a range of skills like building up strength, range of motion, coordination, memory, sequencing, and body awareness.

In this big world, letting kids choose their own clothes represents a small way where they can express themselves. This simple action can change kid’s behavior and can make parents' relationships with their kids more peaceful, even making getting dressed in the morning a faster and more pleasant part of the day. It gives kids a sense of control over this part of their life, at a time when they do not have a lot of autonomy to choose where and when they go to school, family functions, or to run errands. There are more important things to fight about with children than if their socks really match the rest of their outfit. Though still enforcing formalwear for special occasions and appropriate clothes for the weather, the everyday outfits become something children can take responsibility and control over.

What does this mean for brands and retailers? Should there be some amount of freedom for child models to help choose accessories during photo shoots or runway shows? This could allow for kids to have more fun and to put their opinions and self-expression on display for other children.

kid's fashion

The American Center for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics say that preschoolers should be able to help choose their outfits, kindergarteners should be able to select their outfits the night before and only need help with buttons and ties, and that by about 7 years-old, children should be able to completely dress themselves. These more traditional ideas suggest that parents help with buttons and ties when kids have trouble with them, that showing them how to do things is the best way to learn. Based off these theories, children develop their ability to get dressed step by step over time, while their parents select the garments for them the night before.

Do these methods allow kids enough freedom to choose their own style? Or is it better for parents to help define and mold their style at a young age, to show them by example how to coordinate outfits and tie their shoes? By these theories, the standard retail format works well as a parent-driven environment, that is most accessible to the adults who are making the selections.

We take getting dressed for granted since we do it every day, but it actually requires a lot of cognitive and motor skills. Given the opportunity, kids like to wear their favorite pieces and colors, which can lead to some hilarious looks or unmatched combinations. But at the end of the day, is it that big a deal if they look silly to adults? Are stores too focused on their adult customers? Should they be more shoppable for children? Do child models have a part to play in the styles they wear for lookbooks and runways? There are more questions that all begin with this one - Should children dress themselves?

What do you think? Should we let kids dress themselves completely, a little bit, or not at all? Will you be changing how you interact with child models, or how accessible your store is to kids?
Join the conversation with us on our Instagram!