How often have you found yourself in a tizzy, searching for your child’s shoes as you’re heading out the door? Hunting for, picking out and putting on shoes is one of the many everyday chores that can add to our stress as parents, provoking feelings of frustration, overwhelm and resentment. This parent-child dynamic can continue well into the school years, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
As with most chores, a powerful shift in perspective can transform this daily energy-drain into an opportunity to:
- Take one item off YOUR to-do list;
- Strengthen your child’s self-confidence;
- Help her learn to be responsible, and
- Give her a sense of contribution.
Original Perspective: I’m the parent so I know better than my child. It’s my job to put on his shoes because he’s too young (or irresponsible) to know how to put them on, how to keep track of his stuff or to know what footwear is appropriate.
Alternative Perspective: No one knows my child’s body better than she does. Her shoes are meant to protect her body and the only way she will learn is through practice. Letting her take responsibility for herself on a daily basis provides her with invaluable learning about how to evaluate options, make decisions and face natural consequences.
Here are a few age-appropriate strategies to help you begin to transfer responsibility from yourself to your child in an empowering, age-appropriate manner.
Whether you’ve got a baby, a toddler or a preschooler on your hands, remember that they’ll probably spend most of their life wearing shoes, so give them as much barefoot time as possible while their feet are still developing (and they can still get away with it in public).
From 9 Months
Give Me Your Shoes
Place your child’s shoes in front of her and say, “Give me your shoes if you’d like me to help you put them on.” Please note that you can leave the “please” off of this one, because this isn’t about YOU making a request to your child, but rather, making an offer of your assistance. If she gives them to you, put them on. If she doesn’t, don’t. At this point, shoes are more of a hindrance to your child’s physical development anyway, but it’s useful to introduce her to the idea of wearing them and let her get comfortable with them.
Left Foot, Right Foot
If and when he does give you his shoes, hold one shoe in front of his foot and as you put them on, playfully say, “Right foot in!” and “Left foot in!”
By this point, your child will probably willingly hand you his shoes if/when you put them in front of him, so you can take it to the next level.
Bring Me Your Shoes
Depending on the set-up of your house, either place your child near her shoes or place the shoes a few feet away from her, and say, “Bring me your shoes if you’d like me to help you put them on.”
Put Them Away
Later, when you or he takes them off, you can say, “Would you please put your shoes back by the door?” and point from the shoes to the door. At this age, your child will usually be thrilled to show you (and find out for himself) that he can do it himself.
Put Your Foot In
This is a very subtle but important shift of responsibility. As you go to put your child’s shoes on and say, “Right foot in!” don’t actually put the shoe on. Instead, just hold the shoe in front of your child’s foot and let HIM try to put his foot in, rather than leaving you to finagle the shoe on. You’ll still have to do a good bit of the work, but it will be clear to your child that you expect him to be an active participant in the act of putting his shoes on, not simply a passive receiver.
Once your child is accustomed to bringing her shoes to you and having you help her put them on, teach her how to put them on herself.
You Try It
On days when you have a little more time, try this:
“Here, I’ll show you how to do it yourself… You grab with your thumb and pointer finger on this side…(and guide their hand)… good, and now grab with your thumb and pointer on the other side… Yay! And now, put your foot in!”
It will take a few tries for her to realize that you actually expect her to put her foot in WHILE she is holding the shoes in the new way you showed her, but it won’t be long before she’s giving it a try.
Around 24+ Months
As your child turns two, you may find that he is less happy about putting on the shoes you pick out for him and more interested in choosing his own shoes, so pick two pairs and ask him:
“Do you want to wear your red shoes or your blue shoes?”
Explain WHY you’d like her to wear shoes as you give her a choice. Try saying, “We’re going to the store right now and it’s hot out, so the pavement is probably going to be really hot. Which shoes would you like to wear to protect your feet so they don’t get burned, your sandals or your moccasins?”
Age 3 & Beyond
Put Your Shoes On
As your child’s dexterity improves, you should be getting less and less involved in the whole shoe-wearing process. A simple, “It’s almost time to go, will you please get your shoes and put them on?” will probably do the job. It won’t be a big deal because it will be a normal part of your child’s life, just something she does for herself like she puts food in her mouth.
Okay, Then Don’t
At some point, your child will probably refuse to put his shoes on all together. When that happens, don’t make a big deal of it, just say, “Okay, then don’t wear your shoes, but please bring them with you so that you have them in case you change your mind.”
Letting your child experience for herself what it’s like not to wear shoes for ONE day, will save you HUNDREDS of days spent telling her over and over to put his shoes on, so don’t be afraid to let it happen if necessary. Chances are, however, that she won’t need the whole day and might change her mind on the way.
Teaching–or more accurately, allowing–your children to take responsibility for themselves, their bodies and their belongings at these early ages has a life-long impact. It won’t be too far down the road that you can be saying, “See you later, honey!” to a teenager who is adept at considering the consequences of decisions, who is empowered to look out for his/her own wellbeing, and who takes the initiative to prepare for what he/she wants in life.
Wendy Garrido, founder of OneAmazingMom.com, is a conscious parenting consultant for entrepreneurial women. Wendy was Editor-in-Chief of a Seattle-based conscious parenting magazine and has a background in Nonviolent Communication and EFT Tapping. She lives in Oceanside, CA with her husband and daughter.