When my oldest was in kindergarten, I felt a flicker of guilt sneak in when I realized a few of her classmates were able to tie their shoes and she couldn’t. Was I not doing my job as a parent? When should kids know how to tie their shoes laces? Was she behind her peers?
Her nonchalance about the situation told me she wasn’t ready to learn, and that told me to back off. She didn’t care either way and was fine wearing shoes with Velcro; she was also happy to ask for help if her shoes had laces. I had only been a parent for five years but had learned very quickly that kids will not do much of anything until they are damn good and ready. Even after her teacher suggested that I or my ex-partner teach our daughter how to tie her shoes, I didn’t force it. Who wants to slay that tantrum-filled dragon?
Keri Wilmot, a pediatric occupational therapist, reminds us that shoe-tying is, “probably one of the most complicated fine motor skills children learn, given they need to coordinate both hands at the same time, together.” Wilmot also noted that the process is multi-stepped and that is a challenge in itself. Most (not all—there will be plenty of kids on either side of the spectrum) kids can’t tie their shoes until they are between the ages of 6 and 8.
There is no reason to panic or feel shame if your kid can’t tie their shoes by the age of eight. Your kiddo may just need a bit more time.
Of course, if you are worried that your child may have developmental delays, talk to your pediatrician or an occupational therapist.
We can be guides and cheerleaders, but if we wait for our kids to tell us when they are ready to try a new or hard task, the experience is always so much better for them and us. I have to remind myself of this at times, because it’s easy to judge my parenting skills against the benchmarks my kids are or aren’t hitting at certain ages. Take those milestone sheets you get at your child’s yearly check-ups as suggestions and what to expect, not as the Holy Grail; every child is different and reaches milestones at their own pace.
I have never been worried about my three kids’ fine motor skills—their ability to not fall off of the kitchen stools 19 times a day is another story—so it was easy for me to not care about their shoe tying abilities. Yet, despite the fact that I put zero effort into teaching my children how to tie their shoes, they all know how.
My oldest daughter figured it out on her own after my ex showed her a viral video of a kid teaching the world a new way of tying his laces. My youngest daughter simply decided one day that she wanted to be able to tie her own shoes, so she did. She was a stubborn and determined 6-year-old who was tired of asking others for help. She powered her way through it, and after she yelled at me that she didn’t want any help, I happily let her work it out.
She can be pretty intense, my youngest. She wants to do more than her body is capable of at times, and that makes her very angry. But that doesn’t stop her from trying. She will grunt, cry, and scream her way through a task. It’s not the best learning style, but it works for her at times. In this case, it did. She was pretty proud of herself—she was downright smug—and relished her independence. I praised her and quietly thanked the heavens that I dodged what could have been a shitshow.
Her twin brother was about a year behind her before he was also able to tie his laces. And right when I was starting to wonder if he was interested in trying, my son came home from school and said he didn’t need to learn. I thought it was because he was reminding me that we recently ordered him a pair of new sneakers that had Velcro. Nope. He said his friend taught him. I had nothing to do with it. He was ready to learn, his friend took the time and had the patience to teach him, and my son was receptive to the help. It was the best case scenario. After watching the video again that taught my daughter how to tie her shoes, the boy mentions it was a friend who taught him.
I have applied this thinking to other notable events in my children’s lives. I never let their age or school grade motivate me to say “you need to learn and this is how we are going to do it.” Reading and bike riding didn’t happen by magic, but they were not forced. My youngest daughter—the one who taught herself how to tie her shoes—basically said, “Take off these fucking training wheels,” hopped on her bike, and then rode away on two wheels. I’m pretty sure she was waving her middle finger at me as well.
This was the same for potty training my daughters. However, I did speed the process along for my son. He and his twin sister could not begin preschool if they were still wearing a diaper or pull-up. After several years of being a stay-at-home parent, I needed my twins to start their part-time preschool program. My son would have happily kept pooping in his pants, so I nudged him a bit. This made potty-training more anxiety-producing for both of us. He eventually got it but was reluctant and there were more accidents and underwear to throw away compared to when his sisters transitioned out of diapers. My girls asked to pee on the potty; my son asked for his diapers back.
Our kids will reach those milestones, whether on their own, with the help of a friend, or with the readiness to let us be their teacher. It’s okay to relax, parents. There are so many other things to worry about when it comes to raising kids. You are allowed to buy the Velcro or slip-on shoes for as long as your child needs them.
This article was originally published on