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How to Teach a Child with ADHD to Tie Shoes: Tips and Strategies for Parents and Teachers

May 22, 2023
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    Does your child with ADHD have trouble tying shoes? Kids with ADHD often experience challenges with fine motor skills, working memory, patience, and concentration, all of which can make teaching kids to tie their shoes more difficult.

    However, learning to tie shoes is important for a child's confidence. It's one of many critical developmental milestones for kids, and children need to have the skills necessary to tie their own shoes when parents and other trusted adults aren't around.

    This article will discuss how to prepare kids to learn to tie shoes, shoe-tying tips and strategies for kids with ADHD, and how to troubleshoot common challenges your family might encounter throughout the process.

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    Preparing for Shoe-Tying Lessons

    Before we get into the shoe-tying tips and strategies adults can use to make shoe-tying lessons fun and effective for children, let's talk about how to prepare. If you haven't already, complete the following steps or make changes (e.g., switching the shoes you use for practice) that might benefit your child. 

    Choose appropriate shoes

    First and foremost, you want to ensure that you select an appropriate pair of shoes for children to practice with. The right shoes will have laces that are easy to grasp and handle. Thin laces that slide or are tough to untie aren't ideal. Test the shoelaces on several pairs of your child's shoes and select the most suitable option.

    Create a positive learning environment

    A positive learning environment will be supportive and free of distractions. Take a light-hearted, patient, and positive approach to teaching kids to tie their shoes. It’s one of many potentially difficult tasks we learn in childhood, and needing to work toward the skill for a while is common. Take note of anything that could distract or overstimulate your child while learning (e.g., TV shows playing in the background) and adjust their surroundings appropriately.

    Break down the steps of shoe-tying

    Since differences in working memory can make it tough for kids with ADHD to remember multi-step instructions, it's ideal to communicate one step at a time. This goes not just for tying shoelaces but any situation that requires you to give a child directions.

    After putting shoes on, instruct a child to tie their shoes step by step, only moving on to the next once the previous step is complete. For example:

    1. Pull tightly but comfortably on each shoelace.
    2. Tie a simple knot.
    3. Make loops with each individual shoelace.
    4. Cross the loops.
    5. Pull one loop through the other.
    6. Hold both loops and pull tightly on each at the same time.

    Tips and Strategies for Teaching Shoe-Tying

    If a child hasn't yet mastered tying their shoes, there are a number of tips and strategies one can use to help. Many of these strategies will both make the learning process more enjoyable and improve a child's understanding of the skill. Try the following ideas during practice time to help kids learn to tie their shoes successfully.

    Use visual aids and demonstrations

    Visual aids and demonstrations can provide clarity and engagement for children who are learning how to tie their shoes. Usually, they come in the following forms:

    • Step-by-step visual instructions. You can find graphics online for free that show kids how to tie shoes step-by-step. Often, these will be in a comic strip format, which makes it easy to see and master each individual step.
    • Books. Books like "I Can Tie My Shoelaces" give kids visual instruction(s) and have an interactive component. Real shoelaces to practice with are attached to the book.
    • Videos. Similar to graphics, free videos designed to help children learn to tie their shoes are available online.
    • Model the steps. Many parents find success in teaching kids to tie their shoes by modeling each step and having a child follow along. Sit down next to your child, ensuring you both have an untied shoe to work with. Then, move through each action slowly, having the child follow along while you demonstrate with your own shoe.

    Incorporate movement and sensory input

    Incorporating movement and sensory input are great ways to aid learning in children with ADHD. Sensory input comes in different forms. In this case, most of it will be visual, tactile, or auditory. Here are some ideas to try.

    • Shoe-tying songs. Songs help many kids learn and retain information. Many shoe-tying songs and rhymes are available for free online. Typically, they are simple and easy to remember, so this approach can be highly beneficial.
    • Shoe-tying "boards" for practice. Take a piece of cardboard and draw two shoes on it (you can trace a child's shoes to make it easier). Then, make holes in the shoes you drew and thread shoelaces through them. Allow a child to practice tying shoes with the board. This is ideal because it lets kids move around and see the shoes better. If you want to make creating the board even easier, you can make holes in an egg carton and put laces in it instead.
    • Colored laces. Laces that are neon, a child's favorite color, glittery, or patterned may appeal to a young child more than basic shoelaces. Consider letting a child pick out shoe laces that are visually appealing to them.
    • Shoelace alternatives. Just for the sake of practice, some parents teach kids to tie shoelaces by replacing shoelaces with pipe cleaners or another alternative. Pipe cleaners are used frequently because of their tactile sensory input; they're soft to the touch, easy to control, and fun for kids to use.

    Reward progress and effort

    Positive reinforcement for progress and effort can be very motivating for children and may come in different forms. First, verbal praise is often incredibly valuable when teaching kids to tie shoes. Consider complimenting the steps kids get right or the effort they put into practice time. Reward systems like sticker charts may also motivate a young child.

    Consistency and practice

    As with many things in life, learning to tie shoes takes time. Practice consistently in small, manageable chunks. Take a break or stop for the day if a child gets overwhelmed or reaches a sticking point. That way, kids can pick up where they left off the next day, feeling rejuvenated and refreshed enough to proceed. 

    Troubleshooting Shoe-Tying Challenges

    When teaching a child to tie shoes, it's normal to encounter setbacks. Children develop motor skills at different rates, and the process of tying shoes can be confusing. Understanding the specific challenge a child’s up against can help you troubleshoot it.

    Common challenges and solutions

    All children are different, but many encounter one of a few common challenges when working on shoe-tying skills. Consider whether one of the following setbacks could influence a child’s learning experience, and address it accordingly if so.

    • Bilateral coordination. Bilateral means "both sides," and bilateral coordination refers to the ability to coordinate actions on both sides of the body. If a child experiences difficulties in this area, gross and fine motor skills can both be affected. Most kids develop greater bilateral coordination as they age. If not, working with an occupational therapist or using at-home occupational therapy activities that support bilateral coordination can help.
    • Following steps and motor planning. A child may get confused by or have trouble executing the steps required to tie their shoes. If that's the case, a possible solution is to slow down and move one step at a time, ensuring that kids master each step before proceeding to the next. 
    • Body position. Kids may experience discomfort if they're hunched over for an extended period of time. If a child has been practicing with the shoes they're wearing, consider allowing the child to practice with a shoe in their lap instead until they get the hang of it. This is another instance where boards, egg cartons, or books with practice shoe laces can come in handy.
    • Left/right confusion. Some children confuse left and right. Adults can help kids who might be experiencing challenges in this area by saying, "The lace on this shoe" instead of "Left" or "Right."

    Addressing frustration and setbacks

    Kids may encounter several setbacks as they learn to tie their shoes. A child may get frustrated because it is taking too long, or they may feel self-conscious and throw in the towel early due to perfectionism. They may feel like something that seems to come easily to others doesn't for them, and that's tough.

    Again, you want to take note of anything that could affect a child's learning. Listen to their feedback. Does the child seem confused? If so, could more specific instructions or different verbiage help? Alternatively, what if a child gets frustrated, upset, or overwhelmed? Taking breaks, working in chunks, providing extensive praise, and using a reward system are possible ways to address it.

    The majority of children will feel confident tying their shoes with practice, so setbacks will rarely be something to worry about. If you're concerned about something that could affect the learning process for your child, such as motor skill development, consult with their pediatrician.


    Concerns related to fine motor skills, memory, and attention may all make it more challenging for a child with ADHD to learn to tie their shoes. However, tying shoes supports independence in kids and can be important for their confidence. Adults can use a number of strategies, like choosing the right pair of shoes and incorporating sensory input, to make the learning process move more smoothly. Many children experience setbacks along the way, but adults can help them troubleshoot and move forward. Rarely is there a need to worry, but a parent may consult their child's pediatrician if they are concerned.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.