motor skills

Developing Motor Skills - how to help your child with dressing, buttons and zips

NHS GrampianThe information on this page is also available to download:


Children should be given the opportunity to participate in all personal care tasks from an early age. All attempts towards independence should be encouraged.

Tips for dressing skills

From a very early age children can help by putting out an arm for a coat or a foot for a sock. Begin to ask your child where clothes go, so show them a shoe and ask where does it go? It is helpful if children learn about the order of dressing clothes before they dress themselves too so you can ask what next or play with dress-up dolls or paper dolls to learn the order.

  • Undressing is easier than dressing
  • Allow plenty of time and use lots of praise. Try to avoid getting frustrated.
  • Simplify dressing, do without fasteners whenever possible.
  • Allow your child to sit on the floor or in a chair to be more stable.
  • Lay out clothes in sequence for dressing.
  • Dressing in front of a mirror might be helpful to see what hands are doing and to see if the clothes are orientated correctly.
  • Talk through actions and sequences and bring attention to body parts.
  • Use visual clues such as labels on the back of clothes, logos on the front, coloured heels and toes on socks.


Practise pre-button skills with children:piggy bank

  • Posting games, like pennies in a piggy bank
  • Threading games, with cotton reels, beads and big buttons. Work with finer and finer sizes as the child manages.
  • If threading is good, try posting pennies through a slit in a square of paper, aiming into a tub. Then use scraps of material.
  • Put two big buttons on either end of a piece of elastic and thread bits paper or material as above onto the elastic. Make the slit smaller and smaller as the child manages.

Once they can manage these skills you can start using buttonholes:

  • Practise with large buttons on a soft fabric initially
  • Ensure buttonholes are large enough and put the button on elastic or a longer thread
  • Toggles are good to practise with
  • Put toys, games and favourite things in bags with buttons.
  • For school clothes or when time will be limited choose 'Velcro' fastenings
  • Place 'Velcro' dots behind buttons so it looks like they are still there and the child still has to match up the material

child dressing

  • Start to practise zips by allowing the child to play with purses and bags with zips
  • Put toys, games and favourite things in pencil cases or bags with zips
  • Add a key ring or tab to zipper to help with pulling it up

View how to help your child with shoe laces and cutlery for help with these complex tasks once they are ready.