Toddler Development: Learning to Tie Their Own Shoes

Jeanne Sager

Flickr photo by woodleywonderworks
My daughter's sneakers with shoelaces are driving me nuts. She refuses to wear them.

Each morning, the exact reason changes -- they're too tight, they're too sweaty, they're not pretty enough (yes, she really said that).

Her preference for her admittedly adorable flowered rain boots finally smacked me over the head this week -- she can put them on herself and there's no waiting for Mom to tie the laces.

With spring break keeping her in my hair all week, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and teach her to tie her shoes -- but it's been, shall we put it politely, an experience?

So I shot an e-mail to Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, a pediatrician and editor-in-chief at Pediatrics Now to find out if my toddler is even ready to learn to tie her shoes

I remember having to learn at 4 in order to be ready for kindergarten at 5, and Dr. O'Keeffe admits, "In an ideal world, kids would have the dexterity between 4-6 years of age."

"However, this was pre-Velcro!" she warns. "In today's post-Velcro world where most shoes are slip-ons, the age kids learn to tie their shoes is widely variable. Some kids will develop the skills as young as 5-7 while others not until 8-ish."

That's a wide range, so how do we know when to start?

"What's important is for parents to be mindful of helping kids learn this important skill and to look for signs of fine-motor readiness," O'Keeffe says. "When kids are able to button their shirts easily and pick up small objects well without help, use scissors, use crayons and draw lines well, they have the coordination of their fingers to be able to tie the simple shoe knot."

Which means my daughter is ready, but I'm afraid I'm being too ambitious. Dr. O'Keeffe says just take it slow.

"Patiently show them how and let them practice!" she says. "I suggest starting with the two-loop tie, and once that is mastered showing kids the more complicated 'adult' method. What's important is mastery, success and self-esteem building, especially if kids are starting to learn the skill on the older side."

What are your tips for teaching kids to tie?

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