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.

  2. My son is 13 and can’t tie his shoes. He won’t admit to it when I ask him to prove to me that he can. He just gets mad and frustrated and walks off. I never once thought of this as laziness on his part, but that it pointed to something on maybe a neurological level. He struggles tremendously in math. He has behavior issues in school that may be because he’s trying to cover up the fact that he doesn’t understand the assignments or something. I am currently in the process of getting him tested through the school. After reading this article, I wonder if I should bring up the shoe tying issue.

  3. Have you tried to show him how? By the way you worded that it seems like you just figured he would somehow learn on his own. If you haven’t shown him. Maybe try making it a fun game somehow or something. So he doesnt feel embarrassed or stressed. Dont force him but be engaging and keep the mood light. I bet he will get the hang of it in no time.

    • It’s kind of a wild thing to ask that she maybe hasn’t had the genius thought to show him how… Mine is 14. We have struggled for years with this. He has been shown by 4 people many many times, slowly, holding and with dorky types of tying to see if he can get one of them. He has a problem at the very first crossing. I never understood it. I thought he was lazy, or didn’t care or I was a bad mother. He does have ADHD and he had been tested for autism but they said he didn’t have it. I just now thought, you know, maybe I should search and see if anyone else has gone through this and if there is any insight.


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