Activities to Assist Your Child with Buttoning
by Sarah Koppenhoefer-Little, OTR/L
Kids Place West Pediatric Occupational Therapist

The ability to button and manipulate clothing fasteners is a significant self-care skill most parents want their child to learn.  This is an important task children need to have independence with dressing.  The typical child will learn to fasten and unfasten large buttons around four or five years of age.

Buttoning is difficult for many children to learn because of all the skills required to complete the task.  It requires coordinated movements of both hands while both hands perform separate tasks at the same time.  It requires a good pincer grasp to hold onto the button, as well as intrinsic hand strength to push the button through the hole while the other hand firmly holds onto the button hole.  Buttoning requires visual motor skills and motor planning.  It also requires that the child be able to sequence the steps necessary to complete the activity.  If a child has difficulty with any of these individual skills, then they will have more difficulty completing this task.

However, there are helpful activities that can make the learning process easier and more fun for your child.  Here are some tips for the home to help your child learn to button:

  • Start with larger buttons.
  • Practice unbuttoning first.
  • Practice buttoning and unbuttoning with the buttons in front of them or on their lap rather than while wearing the clothing items.
  • Use material with contrast stitching around the button holes and brightly colored buttons, so the child is able to visually locate them.
  • Have your child press buttons into Play-Doh using a pincer grasp.
  • Practice placing buttons into resistive slotted containers.
  • Practice by pushing buttons through holes in cardboard or construction paper.
  • Stringing beads will help your child with the skills required for buttoning, including coordinating movements of both hands.
  • Create a button snake with ribbon and 2 large buttons tied on either end, and have your child place loose pieces of felt with slits cut into the middle over the buttons.
  • Provide assistance and allow your child to complete the last step of the task until it is mastered. Then continue to work backward until all steps are mastered.
  • Practice in front of a mirror when your child is working on buttoning while wearing the clothing item.

Adding fun and creativity to a task will help most children learn more successfully.  This is true for buttoning, and other skills which will help increase your child’s independence!