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On Tying (and Buying) Kids' Shoes

On Tying (and Buying) Kids’ Shoes

By Amalah

Help! I do not have a super serious question about Life. But I do have one about shoes. Specifically, little kid shoes. For the life of me, I cannot seem to teach my just turned 7 year old to tie his shoes. Oh, we practice and he knows the pattern. But he gets super, super frustrated and cries and fusses and whines until my ears bleed. How, how, how did you teach your boys to tie their shoes?

And once you’ve answered that, how do you keep them destroying shoes like, once a month? We go through SO. MANY. SHOES!

L

“How, how, how did you teach your boys to tie their shoes?”

Hahahahaha.

HAHAHAHA.

(Sobs quietly in corner)

At the beginning of this school year, I took my first grader (who turned 7 in mid-October) shoe shopping. He immediately became fixated on a pair of black Adidas Sambas, complete with laces. Those were the shoes he wanted, and he wanted them DESPERATELY. And I was like, all right then! It’s high time he learned! He’ll be motivated! This will happen!

We bought the shoes, we brought them home. We got to work. We practiced. Shoes on, shoes off. Pulled out one of those motor-skill dolls with all the buckles, buttons, zippers, laces, etc. and practiced on that. I’d make him tie the initial knot (which took FOREVER, so I admit that most school mornings I ended up doing it for him), and then I’d double- or triple-knot those suckers up in hopes that they’d stay tied throughout the day.

They never did. Every day they came home untied and falling off his feet. I’d ask why oh why he didn’t re-tie them and he’d simply shrug and say it was too hard or took too long.

After a couple months of this, we got a note from his PE teacher politely requesting that we either work on tying shoes at home more (MATHEMATICAL IMPOSSIBILITY, IT’S ALL WE FREAKING DID), or consider different shoes. I delivered what I thought was an effective ultimatum:  If he didn’t keep the shoes tied by himself at school, he wasn’t going to be allowed to wear them.

And that’s why I have a pair of kids’ Adidas Sambas in near-pristine condition sitting in a hand-me-down box and a 7.5 year old who still wears Velcro sneakers.

I do have a 10 year old who technically knows how to tie his shoes and WILL tie them, albeit still very, very slowly and clumsily and with much much whining. And to be perfectly honest, the only reason he ever learned is because he went to weekly occupational therapy for many, many years and it was a skill he worked on with a professional OT. And I totally tied his shoes for him THIS VERY MORNING, because I knew if I made him do it he’d take forever and miss the school bus.

(He’s a leftie with admittedly poor fine motor skills in general, so I usually give him a pass on stuff like this. Possibly too much of a pass? Ugh, I don’t know!)

In other words, OP, I am not the advice columnist you are looking for. I am publishing your question anyway because I am right there with you, and desperately need some advice. Because obviously Velcro Shoes Forever isn’t the best long-term plan and we need to try again. (Not to mention kiddo #3 is also rapidly approaching the Learn To Tie Your Shoes window and I really, really need a win here.)

In hindsight the black-on-black Adidas probably weren’t the best first lace-up shoe for my 7 year old, so I think I’m going to try a set of dual colored laces to help him with the visuals of tying. And probably get something beyond the motor-skill doll for my preschooler (like this or this) and start working on it with him NOW rather than later, since it’s clearly not a skill my children pick up in a weekend. Or a week. Or however many years it’s been now. And I am open to any other recommendations (and not just on teaching the basics, but  how to best encourage them to continue doing it themselves and improving their speed/accuracy).

As for your second question re: shoes wearing out before they’re outgrown, I still really don’t have any magic advice, other than to invest in really good, quality shoes. I know, I know. It sounds counter-intuitive but EVERY TIME I cheap on my children’s shoes I end up paying more in the long run. The no-name shoes wear out and fall apart at such a faster rate and I end up replacing the same size multiple times. (I’m looking at you Old Navy, Target, basically any store or brand that isn’t first and foremost a shoe manufacturer.) Sure, some of it is just luck, as occasionally you find a great bargain shoe and sometimes the name brand bites the dust prematurely, but when I look at our box of outgrown shoes I can see that’s definitely the exception and not the rule. The shoes that last the longest and hold up the best have always been from the brands known primarily for their shoes. (My 10 year old is still wearing the same New Balance sneakers I bought him in August and they are holding up SPECTACULARLY. And he’s very hard on his shoes. So shout out to the New Balance kids line!)

THAT SAID: A pair of “beater” shoes also goes a long way in prolonging the life of the “primary” shoes. My kids don’t really wear anything other than their trusty pair of sneakers (and Keens in the summer, another brand that’s held up really well for us), but they all own a pair of Crocs or rubber rain boots as well.  They aren’t allowed to wear those at school, but they’re easy to slip on and pretty hard to destroy. That’s what I have them wear when they’re out in our muddy backyard or at the beach/pool — basically anywhere where their regular shoes might take a beating. Then I put them all in the dishwasher every once in awhile to clean them. If your kid is consistently trashing his “good” shoes, try a divide-and-conquer wearing schedule: Good shoes for school, outings where there’s a lot of walking, etc., and then an inexpensive shoe for playgrounds and other messy outdoor play.

Photo source: Photodune

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • MR

    YouTube! Seriously! There are many different ways to tie shoes, and when the way I was trying with my daughter was proving not to work for her, I went on YouTube and looked up a few videos on how to tie shoes. I let her watch one a couple times, and that was all it took. That way made sense to her. A few short weeks later and she was helping all her classmates tie their shoes.

    As for making shoes last, I buy ones that have more of the rubbery stuff up front. Pediped ones make ones that last a pretty long time. They are more expensive up front, but so worth it overall when I don’t have to buy shoes all the time.

  • MR

    Oh, and most of the Pediped shoes are completely washable too. They also come with a special insert that make the shoe a little smaller, that you remove as their foot grows, so they can wear them longer.

  • Alyssa

    No personal experience, but youtube “how to teach your child to tie their shoes in 5 minutes”. From the comment section, kids pick up this method really quickly (even though it looks confusing to adults) and its been really successful for a lot of developmentally delayed people. The “part 2” video is a point of view video, so it’s much easier to grasp. But while confusing to understand, it’s super fast too. 🙂

    Good luck. 

  • Kelsey

    When I helped teach the kiddo I used to nanny how to tie her shoes, she was 5 1/2 and wanted SO BADLY to be out of
    “baby shoes” like her little sister wore (she totally did that one on her own), it took us about a week of the stupid “bunny goes around the tree” thing before we realized that it just didn’t make sense to her since she’s so literal, and these aren’t bunnies, these are shoelaces, etc. So we switched up our method to the way I learned to tie my shoes way back when, sans bunnies, and she had nailed it within 10 minutes. Sometimes in a hurry I’d still tie them for her, but also sometimes I just had her walk to the car with them untied and then she had all the time she needed to get them tied on the drive to wherever. Switching up the method can sometimes be a game changer, good luck!

  • Kerry

    I’ve never taught a child to tie shoes, so I’m no help there. 

    But I have noticed an inverse relationship between people who have a very hard time tying their shoes, or never learn at all, and people who are very good at math (as in, Ph.Ds and university professors). I have no idea why that might be, but when you start looking for it you start noticing a lot of successful adults who have decided that laceless shoes are actually a pretty good idea. 

    • Flic

      I must be the exception to your rule I’m afraid. I could tie my laces (and picked up tying a bowtie after watching someone attempt it once) before I started school (at just-turned-4) but am hopeless at maths.

      • Meagan

        Actually Flic, I think you may be a prime example of her rule.  Great at math= shoe tying a challenge, Math more challenging= shoe tying easier to learn

  • My son was pretty late to the game in self-tying his laces.  Fiercely independent, he asked me to teach him.  I think he was embarrassed at school that he didn’t know how.  When he finally got it, he was so proud of himself and relieved. I can still feel the hug he gave me that day.

  • Myriam

    My kid’s school teaches them that skill in the spring towards the end of kindergarten. I’m glad I don’t have to do it, because I’m a leftie, while my girls are right-handed… I’ve also seen elastic laces that you can use with regular shoes, that might be another idea…

    • C.

      I feel you, Myriam! I’m a leftie with a rightie kid and we both got so frustrated, since my brain and hands were doing one thing and his wanted to do another. My husband had to teach him.

      That said, his Kindergarten worked on the skills with his class and started a “shoe tying” club to encourage everyone. And now everyone has learned at least the basics. 🙂

  • Amy Renee

    My oldest decided that he was going to be a “big kid” in first grade and get shoes that tied. Luckily, he announced that at the end of Kindergarten, so we spent the summer practicing and practicing, and then he was able to pick out a pair of shoes that tied for 1st grade.

    He was able to do it (although slowly) but the novelty wore off after a week or so, and he asked for a new pair of velcro shoes, and I said NO I’m not getting brand new shoes already.

    However, we did find one trick from a friend that is an OT for older adults. She introduced us to elastic shoelaces (available from Amazon or from some larger drugstores that carry other items for adapting the house for older adults). You tie them like regular shoelaces, but then you can just stretch the laces to take them off and on without un-tying and re-tying. We’ve also used them when we got a pair of hand-me-down shoes that otherwise fit my 4 year old well but I wasn’t willing to keep re-tying his shoes all day long. We didn’t get the ones with toggles to hold them down – just ones that look like skinny shoelaces.

    Now my oldest is 9 and still wants only velcro shoes (which I don’t blame him for, I only wear slip-ons myself 90% of the time) but he’s starting to size out of the easily available ones and I hate the idea of paying $60+ for a pair of Skechers he’s going to destroy in 2 months or less.

    Oh, for the shoe destroying question – you can sometimes extend the life of a shoe that is getting a hole worn through it with sugru, but even that only lasts so long. I have pretty much given up and acknowledged that if my boys are going to wear the same pair of shoes every single day it is going to have a limited life, and they almost always need the next size when we go to replace them, so I guess I’d rather go through one pair of shoes every few months than have 2 pairs last longer and be outgrown before they wear out?

    • Kate

      Plae shoes go up to 4.5 (and are talking about expanding the size range) and although they are $50-60 they hold up really well and are completely machine washable. Unlike lots of other kids brands (I’m looking at you Stride Rite) you can purchase new insoles from them which is better for foot development if you’re planning on handing them down to another kid.

  • Left-handed kid with right-handed parents here, just in case this tip helps: When my mom had to teach us anything motor-skill related, starting with tying our shoes, she sat directly in front of us and had us mirror-image her. It worked well for both me and my brother (two lefties born to two righties, so weird) and to this day it’s often how I learn new things (like, forming chords on a guitar or whatever). 

    • Chris

      Right-handed Mom to twins, one left-handed, one right-handed.
      For the rightie, I knelt behind him and reached over his shoulders to demonstrate.  For the leftie, I too sat directly in front of him and had him mirror me.

      Luckily, they were both eager to learn!

    • Myriam

      Good idea! Thanks!

  • NGS

    I don’t actually have any words of advice, but I will say that one of my most favorite memories of my father is the two of us sitting together on a couch with a doll working tirelessly on tying my shoes when I was 5 or 6. I just didn’t get it. But he was patient with me and so excited when I made progress with each step. And just typing this is making my tear up because I miss my dad and wish I could just thank him one more time for all he did.

    So, I guess I just want to commend all you patient parents and caregivers. They WILL thank you someday. Even if it feels like you’re going to be tying shoes forever sometimes.

  • June

    Same issue here, not much advice. Our issue is that although my son just turned 8 his feet are the same size as mine and yeah, they don’t sell velcro shoes in that size unless they’re orthopedic shoes. His school sent home a letter with the whole “teach them to tie shoes or velcro only!” spiel so we taught him. He learned pretty quickly. Still will never, ever ever ever keep them tied. Drives me insane and we make sure they’re tied when we’re out with him but he always come home from school with shoes flopping off. Oh well.

    I also second the advice on buying good shoes. HE wore through Target ones in weeks and so we ponied up and bought really nice, leather Pumas and although he’s just about too big for them they’re in really good shape still.

  • Amy

    I’m a mom of 2 and work at New Balance – just want to say thank you for the nice call-out — I know first-hand the wear and tear and the shoe pairs we go through in our family as little feet grow – so its great to work for a brand that I can count on for my own kids feet. We’re not at the shoe-tying stage yet – but great advice for when we get there!

  • Cristin

    This is what worked for us; BRIBE. When my stepson was 8 and still didn’t know how to tie his shoes I gave him an assignment. He had 7 days to teach himself (I helped) and if he could do it we’d take him to a movie he wanted to see. It worked. We made a big deal about praising him. He felt good about all his practice paying off!

  • Jennifer B

    Kids will learn this when they really want to learn this. Until then, there are velcro shoes and, when you’ve outgrown velcro shoes, there are elastic shoe laces.

    Try Hickies or Lock Laces. Easily replaces the laces in standard shoes and takes the battle out of it.

  • Autumn

    Make sure you and your co-shoelace tying instructor are using the same method.  My parents tie their shoes differently, so I was going crazy when they were trying to teach me cause they were getting frustrated as I was doing what the opposite one taught me.  

    And spend the money for good shoes.  Our oldest has wide feet, so we have never been able to use Target shoes.  Luckily we live by a Stride Rite store, and they last.  But resist the temptation to hand down shoes, they get imprinted with a foot shape, and hand me down shoes are a good way to mess up next kid’s feet (I’ma physical therapist when I’m not chasing kids)

    • Kate

      I thought it was ok if you replaced the insoles for the next kid. Is that wrong?

  • Samantha

    Omg,  my son’s preschool taught them to tie their shoes.  one day he was like mom,  watch this. My mind was blown. Can a teacher at school help? 

  • Caroline

    It can be an indication of coordination / spatial perception difficulties, that and learning to tell the time on an analogue clock, weirdly. My son’s neurological paed, a wonderful, practical and very insightful man said that it’s a totally ”non scientific” way for him to quickly check for possible learning issues in an otherwise intelligent, intellectually normal child, see if they can tell the time or easily and quickly tie their shoes (Hint. It was not wildly easy for my eldest. He is 9. Telling the time is… starting to sink in and I am being charitable). Anyway. The point he made is that barring that ”test”, WHY are Velcro straps / slip on’s, buckle-ups, digital watches such a huge problem? Why not… just use them instead? If there is a genuine good reason, great, work on it, stick with it, maybe even get input from an OT, but in this world, neither skill is an absolute essential. Food for thought… it had never occurred to me, so het up was I!

  • Anna

    My 3.5 year old has GIANT feet, seriously, size 11, and we are starting to age out of options (that I like and can afford) with Velcro. I adored these Nike Free because they were light, I could wash them in the washing machine, and they seemed to be indestructible. They stop making Velcro closures in them after size 10 ???????????????? so no shoe tying advice here, just stalking for ideas.

    As for shoes that last: They’re Velcro, and not cheap, but I’ve heard amazing AMAZING things about the brand Plae. Supposed to be crazy durable, and machine washable 🙂 We do Keens in the summer, because they’re basically bomb proof, and like Amy, always have a pair of “beater” shoes floating around for quick runs in and out of the yard etc.

    • Kate

      Plae shoes are really great (and got up to big kid 4.5). Get on their mailing list and follow their Facebook page so you know when they’re having their seasonal clearance sales. I couldn’t bring myself to pay full price even though we could technically afford it but when some of the colors/styles went on clearance a few months ago I bought several pairs. They’re completely worth it and you can buy replacement insoles from them so you can hand them down. 

      • kate f

        Seconding this recommendation. I buy a bunch every fall during the 40% off sale. You can get longer tabs if you have a kid with wide feet, too!

  • Anna

    Just want to agree with the alternate method camp. I have VERY clear memories of just.not.getting it when trying to learn the “bunny goes round the hill” whatever method. Finally someone taught me the “two bunny ear” way, and that worked for me until maybe high school when I realized the traditional method is faster and gave it another go. I will never forget how stupid I felt that I just couldn’t tie my own shoes.

  • Chiara

    I haven’t taught any kids how to tie shoelaces (yet), but backwards chaining is how the OTs do it (at least sometimes). (https://www.verywell.com/backward-chaining-3105608). Basically, you list out the steps, and do all of the steps until the last one, which is the one the child does for themselves. Once they’ve mastered the last step, you let them do the second last step, and so on. The advantages of backwards chaining are (1) child gets satisfaction of finishing the job, instead of starting it, getting flustered and having to get an adult to help; (2) child gets to watch you do and explain all the steps slowly each time, until it gets to their part, reinforcing the learning; (3) they still get to do each part over an over again, making muscle memories. That website lists out the steps for one way of tying shoes, you just have to break it down into a lot of detail for whichever way you tie your shoes. 

  • Olivia

    I’m a primary school teacher in the Uk, teaching 6-7 year olds and I reckon that in my class of 28, only between a quarter and a half can tie their laces. I also know a few who can do it in theory but not very quickly or well. I wouldn’t be panicking. (I may also mention to a parent if laces were proving difficult in PE).

    It is an age (I think, although I’m not an OT!) when fine motor skills improve – I can see that in my class’ handwriting which shrinks and joins, although some have a little way to go. But generally I wonder if that type of thing might pave the way for better shoe-tying?

    I also know that I was motivated age 8 by going away on a 3-day school so I HAD to learn, which coincided with no velcros being available in my size anymore.

  • April

    I, a 36 year old, still use the “bunny ears” technique for tying my shoes. And I taught it to my 6 year old. I can do the “regular” method if I have to, but good old bunny ears works great and is easier IMHO. 🙂

  • Alison

    Do American schools not have indoor / outdoor shoes? It’s the norm here in Canada. You have to change into outdoor shoes for every recess and back into indoor shoes when you come back in. That’s a lot of lace tying in one day.

    • MR

      No, most schools in the US don’t do that.

  • Vickie

    One of my favorite stories. A true one. My now 22 year old, when she was FOUR, I kid you not, wanted a pair of tie/lace shoes at the shoe store. Really wanted them. Did not know how to tie shoes.

    I said – I will show you how to tie shoes one time and then if you can do it, you can get the lace shoes.

    I showed her, she then proceeded to tie the shoes perfectly.

    She got the shoes.

    And yes, she continued to be able to tie them.

    My other kids were slightly older, but no issues. (I on the other hand had a very hard tine learning when I was little.)

    But it was the same rule. You have to be able to tie your own shoes, with no difficulties, in order to get tie shoes.

    And I think I remember the kids always double knotted to avoid retie issues.

    • Rayne

      Our school has shoes that live at school for gym class to protect the gym floor.  Kids wear their shoes from home for recess, but change into clean shoes for gym. If they accidentally wear the gym shoes home, you have to clean the soles before sending them back.

  • Hillary

    My daughter learned to tie her shoes somehow (not sure how!) and insisted on tie shoes. Sometimes she whines about how hard it is to tie and I just bite my tongue because I know the one time I get down there and tie those shoes I will be starting a pattern that will be hard to break. Just be patient, let them keep trying, and make sure the laces aren’t too long.

  • Natalie

    Not quite me teaching (seeing as I only have a 6.5 month old and a 13 week in-utero baby), but my parents had a rule. We had to untie our shoes every time we took them off, and tie them every time we put them on. If we tried to slip them off without untying them, we’d have to tie and untie our shoes ten times. More whining meant more times tying and untying. We weren’t allowed velcro shoes past preschool. But admittedly I had strict parents. 

  • alison

    My 9 year old technically learned when she was 6, but there was a lot of frustration and impatience and taking too long, and she basically refused to wear shoes with laces for the next three years.  Then, this year, all of a sudden all of her friends were in more adult shoes, and she desperately wanted a pair of Converse All-Stars, so fashion took over.  Like everything else, it had to be her decision.  

  • Rayne

    We rely on sports moccasins for our boys every day shoes. They come in all sizes, stay on, no velcro or laces, good for all outdoor activities. I get the child sizes from Lands End and the adult sizes for my tween from Merrell.  My boys learned to tie their shoes once they were in activities that required cleats.

  • liz

    My son (14) still has trouble tying his shoes, mostly through lack of practice (he has been wearing solid loafer type sneakers most of his life, because that’s fashionable).

    However, when he DID wear lace-ups, he could tie them himself after he learned how using the book, Pimp My Kicks. He even did fancy laces and everything.