My 11-Year-Old Still Can’t Tie His Shoelaces


Tying shoes. Yeah. It’s just one of those things…

“He’ll figure it out when he’s old enough to care what other people think.” 

I remember the first time I heard those words. I was wringing my hands and scouring the internet for solutions to our problem. And it was our problem, not just his alone. Isn’t it a parent’s job to teach their children how to get along in life? Tying shoes seemed as necessary a task to conquer as walking and talking and eating with a spoon. 

Especially in kindergarten.

All the kids were doing it. But we couldn’t.

We couldn’t tie our shoes.

In kindergarten, we quit trying. I packed a suitcase full of guilt that year. Was I not smart enough? Persistent enough? Creative enough? Was I just plain lazy? Was I a BAD MOTHER? My son didn’t care what other people thought that year. He had classmates who liked playing mama and tied his shoes for him. And he didn’t mind letting them.

This was our practice book. Was it yours too?

So in first grade, I learned to shop for shoes with Velcro. I suppressed the fact that we couldn’t learn to tie our shoes. There is no exaggeration here. I suppressed that you’re a bad mother fact down so far that I could go about my every day as if it wasn’t even true. 

But he did not forget. He could not. I cringe now at the many days he kept it from me; kept the fact that he began to care. 

I only know that one night in third grade when I was telling my very intelligent son how wonderful he was and all the ways that he was advanced, he started shaking his head. He pursed his lips. I kept on bragging and he only resisted more. Eventually, tears rushed out and as I pulled him to me, he mumbled, “I can’t even do what five-year-olds do.”

That was the day that we committed to do different.

(I say do different. There is something self-deprecating about do better and I rid myself of the phrase.)

We decided it was time to reach out to someone who might offer different strategies and who might know why we were different. Yes, tying shoe laces became the tipping point for us. It sent us to counseling and evaluations. But, we found out all sorts of things. Good and useful things.

I learned about sensory processing disorder, ADHD, and executive dysfunction. My son received a few diagnoses. 

I realized that tying knots is a pretty involved task. How much pressure do you use to hold the laces, when do you cross them, when do you let go, how/when do you retrieve them, how hard do you pull…

One of my “Aha!” moments was seeing that my son could not mimic cross-lateral movements and I was unable to teach him myself. We went to therapy for months and it was wonderful. And now I am a good mother.

Some say that Einstein never learned to tie his shoes.

I don’t care. I’m not setting my child up to Einstein’s expectations. I’m preparing my child for life, his own life. He still wants to do it; to tie his own shoes. We’re still trying, from time to time. We’re also still buying no lace options. And I’m grateful for knowledge that brings understanding and understanding that brings power to my son and our family.

 What’s hard for you and your child to learn? Maybe there’s a reason. You are not alone.


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  1. My son is 12 and cannot tie shoes he cannot snap or button pants either we have accommodated him by buying slip on shoes such as Vans and he wears sweats or pants with an elastic waist band.


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