My daughter is 6 years old and a total shoe addict. She's got a closet full, but she only has one pair with laces. Why? Because she can't yet tie her own shoes. But when should kids learn to tie shoes? Is this a milestone that has a pretty definite age requirement?
Kids can and do mature at different speeds, and it's not always possible to pinpoint the exact moment of readiness in a child. “It is really [about] looking at the individual,” Dr. Preeti Parikh, M.D., board-certified pediatrician and executive medical director at GoodRx, tells Romper. “Some signs of readiness include their fine motor skills on how they do activities such as Legos, or more fine motor projects of arts and crafts.” Notice if they are struggling with these skills. Are they able to pay attention, use hand-eye coordination, and use both hands for a task or activity? “For example, holding a piece of paper and using scissors to cut,” Parikh says. “These are good indicators if your child is ready to tie their shoes.”
What if my child can’t tie their shoes yet?
Parikh notes that most chidlren are ready to tie their shoes at 5 or 6 years old, but that’s not always the case. Kids who have delayed fine motor skills, like my son who is on the spectrum, may not be able to tie their shoes for a few years after that.
“Looking at your child’s developmental skills and not just their age is an important factor when determining if a child can tie their shoes,” Parkih notes. “Especially if a child has a developmental delay such as autism.” She urges the importance of not putting pressure on the child, but instead watching their progress in areas like hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and coordinating both hands to do an activity. “If your child is struggling with these developmental milestones, then please talk to your pediatrician about possible PT and OT referrals for your child,” suggests Parkih. “There are activities your pediatrician can tell you to do at home to help build these skills.”
My son learned to tie his — not well, mind you, but it was a huge win — just before he turned 9. His occupational therapist worked tirelessly with him to master those tiny manipulations, which are necessary to tie shoes. Now, at 9 and a half, he's mostly got it down.
In recent years, many kids have been learning to tie their shoes at a later age, since there are so many alternatives to laces like velcro and dialing sneakers. Some experts are concerned that tying skills are not being taught in a timely manner. “Since there are so many other options of sneakers that don’t need to be tied, parents are avoiding it,” Parkih says. “I do think it is important to teach children how to tie their shoes, but these skills should be taught in a less stressful way, and there should not be so much pressure on parents and kids.”
If you find you're struggling with your child to tie their shoes, they may simply not be ready, but it could also be the knot. The classic "bunny ear" knot can be difficult for children to learn, but there are other methods they might find easier to master. When working with your child to learn this skill, have patience with them and encourage them along the way. They’ll get there on their own time.
Dr. Preeti Parikh, M.D., board-certified pediatrician and executive medical director at GoodRx
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