We care about developmental milestones less and less as our children get older. By preschool, many of the most anxiety-inducing milestones like talking and walking have already passed, hopefully without incident. Besides, school professionals monitor students for developmental issues, taking some of the burden off the parents. But less focus on milestones does have its drawbacks. For instance, none of us know when to teach our kids how to tie shoes their shoes.
There are no hard and fast rules as to when children must learn specialized life skills, such as how to read or ride a bike. But one thing we miss about milestones is that we used to know when to worry. Walking by one. Talking by two. Tying shoes by…college? The trick, experts say, is to start by figuring out whether your kid even wants to hit the next “milestone”.
“Every child is unique, and your child’s interest is the best indicator of whether he or she is developmentally ready to learn a new skill,” Alyson Gembala, a veteran early childhood educator and publisher of ChildhoodExplored.com, told Fatherly. “When determining the best time to teach a certain skill, the child’s age isn’t as important as the child’s interest.”
When to Teach Children Important Life Skill Like Tying Shoes
- Understand that lists of skills kids should do by a certain age are only suggestions.
- Remember that every child develops at a different pace
- Instead of pushing a child into a new skill watch for or ask about their interest
- Don’t compare your kids to other kids
- Offer to teach skills that seem too advanced — some kids might be ready early.
Importantly, children of the same age can have widely different abilities. One 6-year-old may have the manual dexterity to tie a shoelace knot, another might struggle through tears. One kid might have the confidence to pick up reading. Another may feel like they’re not good enough. But unlike infant milestones, children are old enough to feel like crap when they fail—and internalize those failures into long-term problems. “If you try to teach a child to read before they’re ready, they will feel as though they’re not good at reading,” Gembala explains.
“Overcoming a lack of confidence is a much bigger hurdle than learning to read, or count, or write your name, or use scissors, a bit later than some other children.”
That means that parents need to keep their head, too. Just because your neighbor’s kid can ride a bike doesn’t mean your kid is ready to lose the training wheels. Besides, developmental skill charts (and their close cousins “milestones”) are never hard-and-fast deadlines for normal development. “Lists of skills by age should be used as guidelines, not roadmaps,”Gembala says. “If you want to know whether your child is ready to try something new, ask them.”
On the other extreme, however, plenty of more conservative parents resist teaching their children new skills that they perceive as dangerous or developmentally inappropriate. “Skills like using knives and tools can be introduced earlier than most parents realize,”Gembala says. “We began teaching our son to cut with a butter knife with supervision when he was two years old. The risk is low, and not only does using a new tool build confidence and independence, it also builds the fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination necessary for so many other skills.”
As a rule, follow your child’s lead. If they say they’re not ready for a new skill, they’re probably not. And if they say they’re ready, provide supervision and guidance whenever possible. ”The most important things to remember,”Gembala says. “Are safety and taking cues from your child.”