Feb 4, 2012

Mommy, will you tie my skates?

As I was taking my skates off today, I was sitting next to a mom and her 5 or 6 year old son putting on skates.  He asked to try tying them himself, so mom talked him through both ways of tying--end over end and "bunny ears."  After about 6 or 7 minutes, the boy asked his mom to finish them so he wouldn't miss any class (you could see the other kids starting to enter the ice).

This mom had it together. One of the hardest things to do is sit there while the child struggles with tying his or her skates, knowing that s/he's doing it wrong–too loose, too slow–while the money you spent for him/her to be on the ice is tick-tick-ticking away.

At skating camp, where the kids come on and off the ice several times over the course of 3 or 4 hours, and the moms aren't there, it can take 40 minutes to get skates on all the kids. It's maddening.

A reader asked me how old a child should be before you make them tie their own skates, after observing what appeared to be teenagers sitting while their moms tied their skates for them.  (One wonders how far they take the personal services for these kids, if you know what I mean.) Here's my guidelines (oh, you knew I had guidelines for this.)

When can a kid really handle tying their skates?
Eight.

Younger than 8, kids often don't have the strength or coordination to tie up complex footgear like a figure or hockey skate, although I've seen kids as young as 5 handle this. A further impediment is added by the fact that street shoes no longer require tying; even if they have laces they are often permanently laced and the kids just slip them on. It is then further complicated by harried moms and overscheduling--the kids get to the rink with just enough time to run into class. It feels really wrong to miss ice because your child is trying to learn how to tie skates, and moms start feeling very pressured as the lobby empties out.

How old is too old?
Nine.

Seriously, this child needs to learn to tie shoes. If s/he's really struggling, make her tie them with the promise that if they feel wrong, you will retie them. But let the kid tie her own skates. This is such a minimum level of self-sufficiency that I'm continually appalled that parents aren't getting their kids here. If you don't have time to sit and teach your child to tie shoes, you are seriously over-scheduled and need a break.

Time crunch
But I get it. You are, in fact, seriously over-scheduled, and harried after school activities are an established cultural norm. If your 8, or 9, or god-forbid 13 year old is having trouble tying skates, either try to get to the rink with 10 or 15 minutes extra to spare, or let her coach know that she's going to miss warm up so she can learn to tie skates. Then sit back and let her do it, don't keep sticking your fingers in. Let her do it wrong. In a month, she'll be doing it herself.

Peer pressure
If someone makes fun of your 13-year-old for letting mommy tie her skates, I say go with it. Tell her, well, at 13 you really should be able to dress yourself. If you don't want the other girls to make fun of this, then learn to do it.

Nope, sorry, don't have time at the rink
So do it at home. Kids these days are master multi-taskers. So every night for a week, during your skater's tv watching time, have her take her skates on and off, on and off, on and off. She's also insulated from the peer pressure here in the privacy of her home.

Let the coach teach them
Years ago at the Ice Rink of the Damned, we solved the problem with camp by taking one of the on-ice periods every day for a week to just work on skate tying. By the end of the week, even the 5-year-olds were master skate tie-ers. Sadly, when a new coach decided he was in charge of camp, this ended, because apparently teaching self-sufficiency was stupid (or maybe it was just because I proposed it, who knows) and we were again stuck with spending 30 or 40 minutes tying skates. 

But if a coach is finding too many kids late to the ice because they can't tie their skates, let them teach this as part of the session. It's a good lesson.

It's part of figure skating
There's a level of poise, self-sufficiency, and maturity that can come from participating in and mastering this sport. And it doesn't just happen gliding around on the ice. It happens because skaters learn to be responsible for taking care of their equipment, keeping their skating bag neat and stocked, not losing gloves, guards or shoes (yes, there are always shoes in the lost and found. And jackets. And skates. It's mystifying. How do you leave an ice rink in the middle of winter without your shoes and jacket?)

Kids need to be allowed to establish these habits themselves. Like I said, Mom is harried: she's worrying about Younger Sib, Older Sib, dinner, the car repair that the family can't afford, and where the hell she left the house keys. Take this off your plate.

Make the child responsible, at a bare minimum, for dressing herself.

28 comments:

  1. What a timely post. I just had a serious wrist sprain and would really like to return to the ice (I've just graduated to washing my hair... I still can't hold a pencil)

    My husband told me "If you can't tie your skates, you aren't ready to be on the ice."

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  2. My daughter is 8 and after 6 years on the ice, has just recently mastered tying her own skates. Last year (when she turned 7) we explained that it was time for her to "own" removing her skates and drying them herself (without our help). She would occasionally try to tie her skates herself but would end up frustrated at not being able to get them tight enough. Then, last week, when she went into the rink ahead of me (and it took me a little longer to get the littler ones out of the van), by the time I got inside, she had one skate on and was working on the second one. Then last week, the father of another friend (who is also 8) picked her up from school to get her to the rink and he was very impressed that she got her own skates on (and made sure to comment to his 8 year old).

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  3. Locally, 'tying laces' has become such a societal problem, that it's become a required skill in elementary schools in the state. Kids are expected to be able to tie shoes laces at 6. I would think that if they can tie shoelaces easily, they should be able to tie boots at 7 or 8 as you say. Boot tying would be doubly difficult without the lace tying skills. At publics I consistently see and hear parents 'getting down' with the whole lace tying thing. No one's making them do it, they're enforcing it. I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "You're old enough to do it yourself."

    But what I want is for someone to untie my skates, remove them, then massage my feet. And he better have a mojito for me too.

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  4. great post. Drives me nuts to see parents of 8+ year olds tying their skates. I think it is less to do with being harried and more to do with an need to feel indispensable and "involved"

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    1. I feel awkward especially if it's like girls age 14+ having moms tie AND untie AND dry their skates? Seriously?

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  5. I have two newly 8-year-olds twins, girl in FS2 and boy in hockey. Girl can now put her own skates on, she learned last year when she was 7. However as you say, we are often short on time, I'm a working mom and girl skates 3-4 times a week. It's rushing - so often I help her put them on. I can't afford expensive private lesson time on her lacing her skates. I also don't want her to miss warm-up. Boy is not even close. He is now finally taking all his gear off on his own. I'm glad for that. But the fact that I help them put on their skates doesn't frazzle me a bit. I'll try to get them ready by summer camp to fully do this on their own, but in the meantime, seriously I don't care. I need to make sure that their skates are on properly, I spend so much money at the rink, it's important to me they get the best out of it. I understand that the camp situation would be maddening, but otherwise I don't quite get it why this would be source of worry if my 8 or 9-year old needs help putting his/her skates on?!

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    1. Great response. The sky is not going to fall if you "assist" you child with their skates. It is no different than an equipment manager working/repairing equipment to maximize efficiency

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  6. My 10 yr old, juvenile level, daughter has always had tiny hands. I remember her sobbing in frustration because she didn't have the hand strength to work the hole punch for a kindergarten assignment. She's had no trouble tying her own shoes since age 5, but can't seem to get her skates tight enough. She works on it and eventually she will be completely self sufficient, but I'm not going to feel bad about helping her with them now. If she ties her own skates she can't do her double Axel. (Can't land it when I tie them either, but she's getting closer!)

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    1. Clearly any "rule" must be adjusted for individual circumstances.

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  7. The Same AnonymousFebruary 5, 2012 at 5:14 AM

    I've had problems with hand strength too (turning keys was a major one). It usually takes me a few tries to get my skates tight enough but having other people do it feels like they're pulling my foot off! :P

    I started skating as a teenager, so I can't comment on the age thing, but last week I could have used some help. I was injured, and my boots were loose because it hurt too much to tie them tightly. :(

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  8. I tied my daughter's skates far too long. She wanted them very tight and didn't have enough strength. But then, she was never going to build enough strength if I didn't let her try.

    It took her about 2 weeks to really get it right.

    Although, it seems about 1Oyo is when kids start tying their own around here. I do notice some difference between the big jumpers and the smaller/not jumpers: big jumpers really seem to tie tighter and retie more often.

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    1. "she was never going to build enough strength if I didn't let her try"


      This

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  9. 9 year old hockey boy has been able to tie for about a year -- really needed help to pull tight enough till then. But, 5 year old (almost 6) figure girl can tie just fine on her own (and can tie her 4 year old sister's skates, too). Agreed, though, they just need to start trying it on their own, whether successful or not, before they get too dependent on always being helped.

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  10. My nine year old can now tie her own skates, although she had some trouble with her new ones until they broke in somewhat because they were so stiff.

    At the risk of sounding santimoneous, as the parent who gets my kid to the rink in time for her to get laced up every time (because I chose times we can make), it drives me CRAZY when ice time gets wasted because other parents can't do the same or want to have a discussion with coach when Princess is already coming on late, etc. I vote no to the on ice tying lesson; that's a parent job and it's not fair to the kids who get there on time and have it together.

    She Who Has Clearly Become a Curmudgeon ;)

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    1. Good point, although I've had classes where everyone is late because of this problem.

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  11. There's apparently a market for lace pullers made for kids. The reviews I see on the lace pullers available is that they're designed for adults. What adult needs a lace puller? Unless they're tying their kids laces?

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    1. I don't understand why I don't see lace-pullers more often. I keep one in my jacket pocket and parents are always amazed by them. But I think as big a problem for kids is understanding which part of the lace to pull when. They always try to pull from the top instead of eyelet-by-eyelet from the bottom.

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  12. I recently starting teaching my 8yo how to tie her own skates with the next size up boot we have at home. She's always been super particular about the tightness of her skates (I remember getting blisters trying to get them tight enough for her liking). Anyhow, until she builds up her skate tying strength & gets it right at home no way am I going to let her experiment at the rink. Time is precious and I can tie both those suckers in under a min... that's approx 10 minutes of sleep I can continue to have! But once she hits 9 like it or not I'll sacrifice a few minutes of sleep so she can do it herself.

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  13. When the kids skate before school, their parents will often dry the skates for them as the kid is removing the other skate and then running to get changed. I don't see this as a problem as these kids dry their own skates at after school or weekend sessions, but having the parent do it before school saves a couple of minutes time.

    I think parents start tying the laces of their 6 year old (probably not able to do it themselves), continue tying the laces of their 8 year old (should be learning to do it themselves), and somehow find themselves still tying the laces of their 14 year old (should be able to do it themselves!).

    As some of the examples above show, it's not about a set age, it's about knowing your child and having the guts to say, ok so it'll take longer and I might end up re-tying them in 5 minutes, but it's time for the kid to tie their own laces!

    Even if kids aren't strong enough to lace their skates tight enough, they should be able to untie them, removed them and dry them (even if they need help with the knot, they can unlace them themselves) from a younger age.

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  14. "As some of the examples above show, it's not about a set age, it's about knowing your child and having the guts to say, ok so it'll take longer and I might end up re-tying them in 5 minutes, but it's time for the kid to tie their own laces!"

    This

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  15. I also think that you have to be careful about what you're teaching your kids. What's more important-- self sufficiency, or those extra 5 minutes of ice? Because I have to tell you, I don't care how many double axels you have--if you're not self-sufficient you're going to bomb on the big stage.

    And no, 8 is not too young to teach it.

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    1. "Because I have to tell you, I don't care how many double axels you have--if you're not self-sufficient you're going to bomb on the big stage."

      Word up.
      Deserves a post of its own.

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  16. I laced dd's skates until a month or so ago(she is 9). It wasn't until another mom said she should be able to do it herself that I even considered her doing it herself! She softened the blow by telling her own dd/skate/coach story. :D Since we are always in a hurry but for one day a week, we used that day for her to learn how to lace her skates. Now she is a pro at it. What I have noticed though is that it isn't at all about her lacing her own skates. It's about allowing her to feel self sufficient and confident with her own equipment. I'm glad the other mom spoke up. ~Meg

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    1. And we have a GREAT blog topic-- "should you say something?" Sadly, every skating mom ends up reinventing the wheel. And you hit the nail on the head -- it's about allowing her to feel self sufficient and confident!

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  17. "during your skater's tv watching time"?
    Nope, sorry, don't have time for that! :-)

    Maria, mom of two skaters, 5 and 3 years old, who can't tie their laces tight enough yet, but they untie their laces, and take off and dry their skates. Yes, even the 3-year-old.

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  18. I don't remember what age my daughter was when she learned to tie her skates but I DO remember she had to do it in a hurry! We had signed her up for "extemporaneous"in a competition (when the skaters are taken to a room where they hear a song and then 15 minutes later they go out to the ice and compete with their improvised programs). We had seen it in the competition the year before and it seemed fun... BUT the parents do not get to see the child again after they go into the room to hear the music. So you either put their skates on and they have to wear them the whole time they are "choreographing" in the room or they have to tie them themselves! So when we realized that was coming, our skate-tying practice sessions took on quite a degree of urgency. But she learned! I'm guessing she must have been 8 or 9.

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    1. HM, so funny-- this is how my daughter finally learned to ride a bike (and she was older than 9 I think). She'd been invited to a party by the "in" group at the rink (yes, the ones she no longer talks to because they were so awful) and we had no car. So I told her we can go if you learn to ride your bike. (This was the same party I've spoken of before, where the mothers spent all the time tearing down the girls that weren't there. Awful.) All it takes is a little motivation.

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  19. I think both my skaters were doing it by age 7sih. Their feet, their skates. I had huge fights with my son, not tight enough ect. So you fix it the way it feels best for you, they learned fast how to tie.

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