Part 2: How do caregivers support development?

Understanding that children develop at their own pace, and through a pretty consistent pattern is very important for anyone working with young children. Sometimes just KNOWING that the child is not being ‘naughty’ but actually working very hard to master a new skill can give caregivers an entirely different viewpoint.  And with a new ‘outlook’, caregivers often find ways to enhance the child’s learning.

Let’s look at the 3 year old that is so determined to dress themselves to go outside.  This is an enormous task!!  They need to put on their shoes or boots, put their arms in the sleeves of the jacket, zip or button the jacket, and then put on a hat and mittens!

What can cause some of the struggles?

  • The boot or shoe opening is small and the child has to maneuver their foot into it, and then it has to be the correct shoe (left or right); their sock may get twisted in the shoe and the child has to start the whole process over.
  • They put their jacket on upside down, get both arms in but then can’t find the zipper part; when they take it off, one sleeve turns inside-out; finally get the jacket on the right way, but the zipper is too small for their fine motor skills, or the end of the zipper is worn out and doesn’t work properly.
  • Ok, we have boots/shoes on, our jacket is on and zipped, we easily put on the hat.  Now onto the mittens.
  • Which mitten goes on which hand?  It is hard to get the thumb in the right place, and if it is gloves instead of mittens, it can be really hard to get one finger into it’s spot.

Ok, now we are dressed and ready to go….oh, oh,…. they have to go to the bathroom!!

How can caregivers help!  It is important to think through all of the skills and tasks that are needed to get dressed and then try and make changes or suggestions that can make independent dressing just a little bit easier.

  • Provide ample time for dressing!
  • Watch the child and try to see where some challenges are, and then try to correct them.
    • Show the child how toes point in towards each other for left/right shoes.
    • Make sure all items are big enough for the child to easily put on.
    • Make sure all items are in good working condition – the zipper works, the mitten thumb is not turned inside out.
    • Teach the child how/where to hold the zipper or button for easier fastening.

And above all, try and be patient.  They are learning, and they will get there!  We all started the same way.  It will make your day so much brighter too!

Great Resources on Child Development and Childhood Milestones

Check out these websites and resources if you are looking for more information regarding child development.


University of Michigan – Milestones

PBS – Milestones

Center for Disease Control and Prevention – Milestones