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Don’t get tied up in knots over shoelaces

In the rush out the door in the morning, stopping to teach little ones how to tie their shoelaces can be a harrowing experience. But put some time aside to practice with them when things aren’t so hectic and you’ll reap the rewards, says JACKIE RIACH of Triple P Positive Parenting.

While tying laces is second nature to us, it’s actually quite a complex skill for kids, according to Jackie Riach, a clinical psychologist and Triple P Positive Parenting Lead in New Zealand. Hence all the frustration in the mornings. But by picking your timing and with a few good tips up your sleeve, shoelace tying can be a great confidence and independence builder for your child.

Know when they’re ready

It’s important to make sure your child is ready to tackle something like this, as not all kids develop these skills at the same rate or age, Jackie says.  But by five or six years old they generally have the fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, ability to use both hands in a coordinated way, as well as the sequencing and memory skills, to make it all happen. (No wonder it takes a while to learn!).

At about this time, kids will also be learning things like doing up buttons and zips, tying knows, eating with a knife and fork, threading beads, all those sorts of skills.

If they’re showing interest in learning a new skill like tying their laces, then capitalise on that. But avoid doing it if they’re tired or hungry – try to pick a time when you’re both calm and have the space to spend together practicing. Try not to do it in a rush.

“As parents, when we’re under time pressure we often just want to get the laces tied and so we take over, but it pays to harness their motivation and encourage their independence. By doing so, your child will not only learn to do the task, but will ultimately save you time in the long run,” Jackie says.

Set the scene

Jackie recommends talking to your child beforehand to let them know what to expect and what the steps involved are. Let them see you do it – demonstrate on your own shoes and encourage them to ask questions and give it a try for themselves.

Jackie’s tips for success

  • Use lots of praise and encouragement for their efforts and small steps along the way – don’t just praise them when they master it. And avoid mocking or criticising them as they go.
  • Have fun with it! You could start with a shoelace board – either a bought one or just make one up on cardboard with a hole punch. Then move on to a real shoe without a foot in it, then on to a shoe actually on their foot.
  • Be patient! If the task is beyond their skill level, avoid pushing it – it may be a sign that your child isn’t quite ready and it’s something to try later.
  • Think about who will teach them. It could be a parent/sibling/ grandparent. Then make sure anyone teaching them follows the same steps.
  • Practice regularly at times when everyone is relaxed.

TOP TIP! Use half-coloured laces or lace tips. You can use a felt tip or nail polish to colour the tip of one lace so it’s easier to tell one side of the lace from the other.

Teaching methods

Jackie suggests starting slowly, either by teaching backwards (i.e., you do most of the process and your child does the last step, then once they can do that part of the task, they do the last two steps, etc, until they are doing the whole task).

Or parents can also do something called ‘forward chaining’, where your child does the first step and you complete the task. Then once they can do the first step, they do the first two steps, etc.

Jackie suggests helping as much as needed but try not to do it all for them. Then make sure they practice regularly.

“There are different methods and parents need to choose a way that works for them and one which they understand and can teach.”

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