Tying our Shoes

Tying our Shoes

One of the questions/concerns I hear a lot is, my child can’t tie their shoes. How can I teach my child to tie their shoes?

So, I’d to tell you how we teach children to tie their shoes at the NLC but first I need to do a bit of a rant.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am 64 years old and I still dislike tying my shoes. I dislike bending over. I dislike the time it takes. And I dislike trying to get it just right every time.

If you look at my closet almost all of my shoes are loafers or slippers or boots. I have one pair of dress shoes that I rarely wear that has laces. I have a pair of hiking boots I rarely use that has laces. And I have a pair of sneakers that uses Velcro and even those I broke down the backs so I wear them as slippers.

The question all parents have to ask is: is the ability to tie their shoelaces worth it? Is it worth the stress? Is it worth the tears? Is it worth the failure? Is it worth the possible loss of confidence, self-esteem and trust?

One of our basic observations at the learning center is that to develop confidence and self-esteem a child needs nine successes for everyone failure. That’s our recipe for developing confidence: nine successes for every failure.

When we get a little older and we have developed that confidence and sense of self, we can adjust to maybe eight successes for every two failures. But for new children and especially those developing new skills, the minimum, the bare minimum for developing confidence and self-esteem, is nine successes for every failure.

I sincerely hope that every parent will take this to heart. Yes, all these developmental skills are important, but NOTHING is as important as the sense of confidence and self-esteem and TRUST that we will be cared for as children.

As parents, we also want to consider whether our child learning to tie their own shoelaces at whatever age is where you want to spend our parenting capital? What other important skills are we ignoring so we can learn this particular skill.

As parents, we also want to ask, is this where we want your child’s physical, emotional, and sensory energy to go?

Again, what other important skills are we ignoring so we can learn this particular skill.

Thank you for letting me rant. Here is the technique for teaching children to tie their shoes that we’ve been using at the learning center for close to a decade.

Tying our shoes is a complex activity and the very first step in teaching a child to tie their shoes is to make sure that they’re developmentally able. This may seem obvious, but I am frequently amazed and appalled how many times children are expected to learn skills and perform tasks that they are absolutely NOT developmentally ready to perform.

  • It requires well developed fine motor skills.
  • It requires the ability to organize information sequentially.
  • It requires knowing you’re right from your left (with certainty, not as a maybe).
  • It requires focus and attention so that we can remember the sequence of events (tasks) and not lose track of where we are in the process.
  • It requires the proprioceptive sensory awareness to feel where your hands and finger are and to feel how the laces and the knots are coming together.
  • It requires a level of sensory integration (bilateral hemispheric integration) to support the hand doing two different things AT THE SAME TIME.

As with walking and talking and reading and counting and dozens of other developmental abilities skills, no two children develop the capacity to reliably tie their shoes at the same age. So, the first thing we as parents need to do is to let go of is the idea, the notion, the mistaken belief, that our child “should” be able to tie their shoes at some arbitrary age as determined by a chart of mathematical constructs (norms).

Once we know that the child is developmentally ready, the next step in learning to tie our shoes is to create the physical, mental, and sensory context within which the learning will occur.

The first piece of that context is a relaxed and focused state of mind (or at least relatively relaxed and focused). For most of our ASD students at the NLC, we develop a comprehensive stress reduction program.

The second piece of our context is helping develop the sensory processing (sensory integration) to accommodate our hands doing different activities at the same time. To this end, most of our ASD programs include daily sensory processing (sensory integration) exercises.

Now that we have the context for learning to tie our shoes, we’re going to break the task of tying our shoes into three steps. And what we’re NOT going to do to force the child to learn all three steps at the same time.

No. We’re going to take each step one at a time, and we will not move on to the next step until we’ve mastered the previous steps.

STEP ONE: Assuming we have the context to begin, the first step in tying our shoes is to take the left lace in the left hand (between thumb and index finger) and take the right lace in the right hand (between thumb and index finger).

We’re then going to cross the laces by passing lace in the left hand over the right lace and into the right hand while we pass the lace in the right hand under and into the left hand.

And finally, we’re going to take the lace that’s now in the left hand and pass it over and down though the space or ‘hole’ created by the crossed laces and catch it with the same (left) hand.

When we now pull on both laces, we have the first half of our knot. Yea!!! That’s step one.

We’re going to repeat this step 5, 10, or 20 times (within the bounds of attention and patience). We may stay with this step for several days several weeks, if needed to achieve mastery.

I can’t emphasize this enough. If they can’t do step one confidently repeatedly with 100% success it is absolutely useless and futile to move on to step two.


STEP TWO: Step two is to make a loop with lace in the left hand and then a loop with the lace in the right hand.

As with step one, we’re going repeat step two until it’s second nature. It shouldn’t take long to master this step. However, we’re going to repeat the step until it’s second nature and we’re going to celebrate each success.

I can’t emphasize celebrating each success enough. We want to build the student’s confidence by celebrating these small successes. This is another reason for breaking the task up into smaller parts.

Rather than repeatedly attempt the entire task and fail over and over and over, we break the task up into smaller parts that we can successfully complete and then celebrate that success.

Before going on to step three, we can practice putting steps one and two together. If this goes well, we can move on to learning step three. If it does not go well, we simply back up and re-evaluate our approach.

STEP THREE: Once we have completely mastered the first two steps, we are going to take the loop in our left hand and hold it straight up over the middle of the knot.

We’re going to take the loop in our right hand go around the loop in our left hand and push it up through the hole under the crossed loops.

And we’re going to switch the loop in the left hand to the right hand and the loop in the right hand to the left hand and PULL! And that’s step three.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER: When we have our three steps mastered, we can successfully put everything together. Remember, if the student shows signs of stress or frustration, stop and re-evaluate the goal.

As parents, we need to continue to evaluate and re-evaluate the appropriateness of the child’s goals, boundaries, responsibilities. Again, to build our confidence and self-esteem, we want 10 successes for every one failure. Feel free to contact us with any questions.

  • Tags: ASD, aspergers, autism, tying shoes

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