Selecting clothes for toddlers, ages 1 to 3
Toddlers learn to talk, walk, and develop self- child may not be the right size for that
awareness between the ages of one and three. clothing when the season arrives.
Toddlers need Clothing helps please the important people in a • A large, varied wardrobe is not important
clothes that will toddler’s life, and dressing is a skill to conquer. to a toddler. Having just a few items and
buying as size needs change will help keep
keep up with
How toddlers look clothing costs down.
them in their
active lives. How toddlers think and feel
As toddlers grow, their body proportions change.
The body grows comparatively more to fit the
head, but the body remains broad compared to Developing self-awareness
its length. The shoulders are narrow and As a toddler, your child will begin to recognize
sloping; hands and feet grow fast. A child may himself or herself in the mirror or in photo-
gain about 10 pounds and grow 9 inches taller graphs. He or she is developing self-awareness
during the two-year period. Girls may be —becoming a separate person from you. When
slightly shorter and weigh less than boys. toddlers approach their second birthday they
will use their own name to talk about them-
Remember the toddler’s physique when selves. At about age three they start using
choosing clothing: pronouns to refer to themselves.
• The neck is still short. Look for rib knit
necklines or single-thickness collars that lie flat. At this time your child also develops an
• The shoulders are sloping. Shoulder interest in clothing. Your toddler learns that
straps will fall down unless crossed in back his or her appearance can cause people to
or anchored together. respond in a certain way. Your toddler will
• Diapers are still worn. Pants need fullness notice if you are pleased when he or she is
in the seat. Crotch openings make changing dressed up for a birthday party or unhappy
easier. about clothes getting dirty.
• Toilet training is beginning. Pull down
styles of pants with elastic waists will help
Table 1. Growth features in clothing
both boys and girls learn to manage this
• Fabrics that stretch
• The toddler is still crawling. Crotch
length of pants should be long enough not to
• Two-piece outfits
• Long tails on blouses and shirts
A toddler needs clothes that fit. Clothes that
are too big hinder movement and play.
• Raglan, kimono, or set-in sleeves with
Clothes that are too big also can become
caught on play equipment and lead to injury.
Table 1 shows growth features you can look
• Adjustable shoulder straps
for in clothing.
• Garments without waistlines
Also remember these tips.
• Don’t plan to save money by buying
• Cuff elastic that doesn’t bind
clothing on sale for the next season. Your
PM1105 Revised July 2003
provide everything needed to take care of the
Dealing with fears
Toddlers may develop fears and will need problems, such as clean underwear, clothing,
your help to understand and dissolve them. and washcloths. For more information on toilet
They may be afraid of certain people, noises learning, refer to 1 2 3 Grow (Pm-1071).
such as thunder, lightening, strange places, the
dark, animals, or taking a bath. Toddlers are Your toddler will feel great satisfaction in the
not all alike, and they may or may not experi- ability to undress and dress. The first step of
ence these common fears. But the fears they undressing often is removing shoes, socks,
experience are real to them. hats, coats, and mittens. By beginning the pro-
cess, your toddler is showing independence.
You can help make your child feel secure.
Physical security grows when warm, dry, well- Don’t be surprised when, at about age two,
fitting clothing and personal care are provided. your toddler undresses completely. Children
A favorite blanket or T-shirt may help the like appearing nude and might express
child develop emotional security. independence this way when you least expect
it. But remember that undressing/dressing is a
skill that will take a while to perfect.
Showing strong reactions
One- and two-year-olds often begin to express
What toddlers can do
strong emotional reactions—either positive or
negative—to events, objects, or decisions. For
example, a child might have a temper tantrum Undressing/dressing
if told to wear a particular outfit. Your toddler gradually will become more
cooperative during dressing and learn to
Remember that each child is different and may extend legs and arms to help put on coats and
require different handling during such tan- pants. Between 19 and 24 months of age, your
trums. One method is to ignore the tantrums child will be quite cooperative.
because your child will outgrow them in time.
Other methods are discussed in the Iowa State At age two, he or she usually will be able to
University Extension 1 2 3 Grow (Pm-1071) pull on simple clothing. During the next year,
newsletter series. (The series is available by toddlers become fairly skilled dressers, asking
subscription. Ask for it at your county ISU for occasional help. But, this ability to dress does
Extension office.) not always mean your child will dress accurately
or want to do it all the time. Clothes may be put
on backwards and shoes on the wrong feet.
A toddler’s self-awareness is one of the first
signs of developing independence. His or her While your child is learning to dress, use a
favorite word often is “no.” Fortunately, this teamwork approach so he or she does not get
negative stage doesn’t last long. By the second discouraged. Toddlers often want to carry out
birthday a toddler will be learning to talk, be a task that may be impossible for them to
proud of personal accomplishments, and seek complete. They should be able to save face and
approval for actions. have successful experiences.
Toddlers can express feelings and indepen- You soon will learn the dressing tasks that
dence through clothing choices. You can frustrate your child. But you can prevent some
provide two outfits that are suitable for the of these situations. For example, if your child
weather and occasion and let your toddler can’t take off overalls because of the buttons,
choose which to wear. unbutton the overalls first and then let your
child do the rest.
Your child may say “me do it.” As thinking
skills increase, toddlers show interest and Shirts with expandable necks, pants with
ability in solving mental problems. Children elastic waists, socks, underpants, and under-
need to learn to dress themselves. You can shirts are clothes your child may find easy to
provide clothing that is easy to put on and take put on. Large buttons, grippers, or zippers
off; such clothing will be helpful during toilet with large tabs (not separating zippers) are
learning. Disposable pull-ups will promote a easiest for small hands to manage.
child's independence and ease cleanup prob-
lems for both children and parents. Another way to help make dressing easier for
your toddler is to lay clothes out in the order
During toilet learning, accidents will happen. they are to be put on. Face each item in the
To help your child become independent, direction that it will first be placed on the body.
A toddler may not be able to tell the back from and get caught. Avoid safety pins as tempo-
the front. You can teach your child to remember rary fasteners.
the “doggie” design goes in front, for example.
Or, you can mark clothing with a dot or X on When shopping, keep an eye on your toddler
the back and teach your child where it goes. at all times and never let toddlers wander near
Remember that children differ in their growth
patterns. Some may master an activity, such as Clothes and fire safety
dressing, earlier or later than developmental Since your toddler always is on the move,
charts indicate. A six-month range of differ- consider how to protect him or her from fire.
ence in abilities is common. In today’s homes candles, playing with matches,
and lighted cigarettes can cause clothing fires.
Nearly all daytime clothes will burn easily if
Toddlers are always on the move. They are ignited.
learning to coordinate their large muscles to
run, walk up stairs, jump, and climb. They also Burns are among the most painful injuries.
are refining the use of their small muscles as Moreover, burns involving clothing are
they build, grasp, and scribble. usually deeper than other burn injuries and
affect a larger area of skin surface.
Clothes must allow for movement and protect
knees, shins, and elbows from abrasions from Children’s sleepwear (sizes 0-14) is governed by
falls. Choose pants or overalls that have extra flammability standards of the U.S. Consumer
padding in the knee area. Long-sleeve shirts or Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Recently
blouses (when possible) can protect elbows. the standards were changed to allow non-flame-
resistant fibers and fabrics, such as cotton and
Check the size of your child’s clothing often. blends, to be used in tight-fitting children's
Clothing that is too small or too large can restrict sleepwear. The CPSC provided exact measure-
your child’s movement and be uncomfortable. ments for each size in the standard. However,
children's sleepwear may not fit tight enough
and it is known that loose-fitting clothing is more
Toddlers are learning to talk and will imitate likely to catch fire. The CPSC monitors burn
sounds. They understand directions quite well. injury data and may reverse its decision about
The vocabulary range for ages one and two is flame-resistant fibers if it finds that the fitting-
three to 900 words. Toddlers use two- to three- based standard leads to more burn injuries in
word phrases. Their language finally may be children.
understood by others outside your family.
Flame resistant fibers do not guarantee that
By teaching your child to name clothing items, children will not be burned if their clothing
their colors, and the part of the body they are worn catches fire, but flame resistant or flame
on, you help increase his or her vocabulary. retardant fabrics do not catch fire as easily,
Your child can learn to follow directions as you burn more slowly, and provide a margin of
give suggestions during dressing. For example, safety—a little more time—to put out the fire
tell your child to put the head through the T- before it surrounds the body, causing severe
shirt first, next place each arm in an armhole, burn injury. For more information about the
and then pull the T-shirt down over the body. children's sleepwear flammability standards
The younger the child, the shorter the direc-
tion should be. Explain one step at a time. Clothes that are considered fire hazards include:
• loose-fitting styles;
• full, loose sleeves, ties and sashes;
Toddlers don’t understand that they can be hurt • ruffles; and
by things in their near environment. They still • fuzzy, airy fabrics.
like to explore by putting things in their mouths. Clothes that reduce chances of catching fire
Check clothing fasteners to be sure they can’t include items that:
come off to get swallowed or cause choking. • fit close to the body,
Clothes should fit close to the body so that • have narrow sleeves with cuffs, and
they don’t interfere with a child’s movement • are constructed of tightly woven or knitted
or cause him or her to trip and fall. Avoid fabric.
drawstrings or long ties that can trail behind
When your toddler can understand simple Toddlers love to imitate tasks their parents do
instructions, teach him or her what to do if in the home. One favorite is imitating house-
clothes catch fire: work, beginning with dusting. Eventually,
• stop—don’t run! with some guidance, your child will be able to
• drop to the ground, and participate in tasks such as dusting, mopping,
• roll over and over to smother the fire. sweeping, and putting away groceries. He or
she may even attempt a kitchen activity a
parent or sibling is doing. Guide your child by
Clothes for sun safety
Outdoor play is encouraged, but children helping and giving him or her a chance to
should be dressed for sun safety when out- work along with you.
doors—especially between the hours of 10 a.m.
and 4 p.m. when the sun's ultraviolet rays are Practical play clothes include coveralls, slacks,
most dangerous. Too much sun exposure in overalls, shirts, and knit tops. Coveralls look
childhood not only causes temporary uncom- neat, but may be quickly outgrown. Shorts and
fortable sunburn, but also is associated with sun suits are practical for warmer weather.
skin cancer in adulthood. The American
Cancer Society says there is no safe suntan and Wear and tear
that any tanning is evidence of skin damage. Toddlers live an active life and this can be very
Light-skinned children are particularly at risk hard on their clothing. Clothes with the following
but skin cancer occurs in all races. characteristics may be easier for you to care for:
• machine washable—to remove food spills
Parents can help their children by following and soil easily;
the skin protection ABCs. • durable to withstand abrasion from
A = Apply sunscreen lotion SPF 15 or above climbing, crawling, and laundering;
⁄2 hour before exposure and reapply • jersey t-shirt knits that stretch for comfort;
frequently; • sweatshirt fleece for warmth and softness
B = Bask in the shade—just stay out of the sun; in cool weather;
and • additional fabrics that need no ironing,
C = Cover up with clothes such as seersucker, corduroy, terry cloth,
quilted fabrics, and stone-washed denims;
Children in strollers often have their heads • fabrics with printed patterns that show soil
shaded, but their bare legs and feet exposed— less than plain-colored ones: and
they should be protected with sun-screen or • smooth-textured nylon, polyester, or
clothing that covers their legs and feet. cotton/polyester blend outerwear which tends
to be water repellent to resist rain or snow.
How toddlers play
Clothing construction features that provide
Learning through play
Children play by exploring the world around • seams sewn with small stitches, flat and
them. Toddlers take play very seriously and pliable;
usually are fully absorbed in play. However, • finished seam and hem edges;
they play alone or alongside other children, • satin-stitch reinforcement at points of
not with them in an interactive way. They find strain such as ends of zippers and pockets.
it hard to share things, but they like to watch
older children play. Above all, children want clothing that is
comfortable and easy to get on and off. Select-
Your child will enjoy nesting toys, blocks, ing a few clothes that are easy care and that
books, and crayons. Household items also will will take hard wear will let your child enjoy
interest your child. Make sure any household active play and become more independent.
items you give to your child are safe.
File: Family life 4 Prepared by Janis Stone, professor and extension specialist, textiles and clothing, and Laura Sternweis,
Textiles and clothing 9 extension communication specialist. Revised from a previous publication by Tabitha Aanonson, former
extension home economist; Barb Abbott, extension communication specialist; Rae Reilly, former extension
specialist, textiles and clothing; and Randy Weigel, former human development specialist.
. . . and justice for all Whitten Building, 14th and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its 20250-9410 or call 202-720-5964.
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religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June
Printed on family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Many materials 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Stanley R.
Recycled Paper can be made available in alternative formats for ADA clients. To file a Johnson, director, Cooperative Extension Service, Iowa State University of
complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Science and Technology, Ames, Iowa.
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