Helping Your Child Through Shoe-Tying…and Life

Q:   Looking for experience and advice helping my daughter, Maya (5.5), through her frustration in learning new skills. We usually wait for her to ask to learn to do something, especially physical skills (ride a scooter, do a somersault, etc.) and shoe tying wasn’t really on our radar because her two favorite pairs of shoes don’t have laces. But her K teacher has declared a challenge to her class that whoever can learn to tie shoes by Jan. 11 will “win” a special lunch in the classroom with the teacher.


download-1.jpgMaya is BOUND and determined to learn to do this to win the lunch. Even with skills she asks to learn, she is very easily frustrated in learning them. She tends to be a perfectionist (for lack of a better word) and wants things to come easily. She will almost immediately declare defeat, cry out, give up–or not give up, but half-heartedly keep “trying” even when I ask if she’d like to take a break and remind her that it won’t happen immediately, but everything takes a bit of practice.


Generally, I remind her of prior skills she’s learned (like a somersault) and say “Remember how hard that was the first time you tried it? And then you practiced and practiced, and now you can do them easily!” Along those lines.


I will admit I can get frustrated with her frustration, because I just simply don’t know what to say to make it better. And I know I can’t make it better for her, but can I help her through this so she doesn’t immediately feel defeated when she doesn’t get something on the first try?


A:  Thank you for your question–tying your shoelaces is one of those developmental milestones that we all had to go through as children.  It can be very stressful and difficult because it takes a lot of fine-motor dexterity, of which your daughter may just not be ready for at this time. My son is in first grade and his teacher puts “practice tying shoes” on the homework sheet twice a week so clearly a lot of kids are still working on it.  


I would try scaffolding the shoe-tying learning.  Scaffolding means simple to start with the basic first part and let her master that then add on the next part.  But before you start I would get a quick gauge on her fine motor development (fine motor means strength and dexterity of small movements like fingers): is she able play with play-doh and make small things with it? Can she wrap rubber bands around something easily? Can she do buttons on her shirt?  Once you have an idea of the scope of her abilities, the first step for her to master would be to simply cross the laces.  Don’t forget to really show her the basics: proper hand position, which lace goes on top, etc.  Then give her ample time to practice this first step.  Once she is doing that well, then show her which lace goes through the hole and from what direction. Then practice that over and over again.  Keep going like that until she’s tying laces on her own.  Like everything else, she will do it when she’s ready all you can do is be patient, present, and set the conditions for her to rise to the occasion.


In terms of her frustration, I would try just letting her vent and not inserting a kind but misplaced “its ok” or “it doesn’t really matter” or anything.  Silence and your physical presence will give her a safe container for her to feel her feelings and you want her to know that you are her safe space to be frustrated (or any emotion).  Just stay near her and offer to give her space if she needs it (you can ask: “do you want me to stay here or do you want a little space?”).  I’m sure just you near will be comforting enough. Often adult words just add to the intensity of the stressful situation.  When she does start ‘getting it’ I would simply acknowledge that she got that part, not with any emphasis on your emotions (likely proud) so that your feelings about the shoe-tying don’t become part of her stress, even if they are “positive”.  That little kindergartener has enough on her plate with all this shoe-tying business, managing your ups and downs should not be her job.


Either way, my final thought is how messed up it is for the teacher to make this into a competition?  I don’t think it would be out of line to say something to the teacher especially with the prize being attention from an adult.  The kids who tie early will be proud enough and don’t need a prize–in fact, it is likely the ones who don’t tie early who would benefit with some extra encouragement and attention from an adult.


© 2018: Nurture: Family Education & Guidance, Emily R. Rittenberg, M.Ed., NCC


Emily can be reached for private consultation at or at 585-420-8838.

Surviving the Abyss of Motherhood

Dear Mama,

These days are the longest you’ve ever experienced, but you can’t get a thing done.  You nurse until your nipples bleed and lie on your bed in a moment of comatose to the new reality, and the baby cries again.  You look at the calendar and have a guilty moment of thinking about going back to work–a physical representation of your old life.  You think “maybe I was made without a maternal instinct like all the other moms.”  Your body will be fragile from the birth, the exhaustion of a newborn, the insanity of taking care of an entirely new human life.  And you will be permanently different.  

But look around for signs of normalcy.  The way your creamer billows in your cup of coffee to the most beautiful swirl the world has ever made.  How the warm water drip drops off your finger tips after you clean the bottles for the third time in the day.  The forever hum of the lights as you numbly embrace your freedom to go to the grocery store anytime of the day.  And in those moments, you can find a peaceful magic no one teaches you about in birthing classes or doctors appointments.  An alchemy of awareness.  A clarity of your tired senses, a calmness to your thoughts that are about the most basic of needs, and ok-ness to the new normal.

Be gentle to yourself. The only thing your tiny human needs is you–fully, authentically, essentially you.

Let go of the imaginary stories you tell yourself about how this should be, it will be what it will be.

Let go of your need to control how this will unfold, it will blossom at exactly the right moment.  

Let go for your desire to capture this perfect moment on camera, succumb to the perfection of the present.  

Let go of your attachment to the story of who you were–or should be, you are new again in every moment of this journey.  

Let go of the schedule that tells you that your new human is already doing it wrong, make up your own version of right.

No one will tell on you.

And in this dissolution of the self you once knew, you get back to how you started: perfect.  Exactly what the universe needs you to be and exactly who your baby came to for guidance on this planet.  Embrace the chaos because in this stimulus you can chose how you will respond.  Live your wisdom–it is infinite, it is powerful, and it is forever present waiting for you to trust.

With light and love,

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Parenting is Not an Instinct

The idea of the ‘maternal instinct’ is old, tired, and culturally irrelevant in this day and age; what ALL parents–mothers and fathers– must start hearing is that parenting is a muscle and a mindset.  Instinct implies either you’ve got it or you don’t.  Parenting is neither of those things.  If you adapt easier to your role as a parent, great.  Good for you.  That’s not typical.  If you feel sometimes inadequate, often stressed, and frequently confused–congratulations, you’re A PARENT.

Undoubtedly there are some natural inclinations that do exist and scientists have proved this time and time again (example: we are biologically programmed to want to snuggle our babies).  But it would be amiss for parents to think that the birth of their first child comes a graduation cap of achievement for themselves.  Birth is just the beginning of the journey and you are never an expert at the beginning of a journey.  Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to be considered an expert.  But the problem lies within the fact that your children are not static beings and their constant development requires constant new skills to train your parenting muscles.  Training your parenting “muscles” takes intentional practice until it becomes muscle memory and you do it automatically with unconscious competence.  Before parents can reach unconscious competence their must be an entire journey of consciousness–raised raw awareness of their own needs and desires.  And truly that journey never ends.



Mindset is another valuable way to look at parenting.  Mindsets are beliefs—beliefs about yourself and your most basic qualities. Think about your intelligence, your talents, your personality. Are these qualities simply fixed traits, carved in stone and that’s that? Or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life?

People with a fixed mindset believe that their traits are just givens. They have a certain amount of brains and talent and nothing can change that. If they have a lot, they’re all set, but if they don’t… So people in this mindset worry about their traits and how adequate they are. They have something to prove to themselves and others.

People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Sure they’re happy if they’re brainy or talented, but that’s just the starting point. They understand that no one has ever accomplished great things—not Mozart, Darwin, or Michael Jordan—without years of passionate practice and learning.

Flex, stretch, grow, and practice practice practice.

Mindset and muscle. Flex, stretch, grow, and practice practice practice. If you are feeling like your kids are not “doing childhood” the way your envisioned it for them, that is OK.  Being conscious, present, and attuning yourself to their needs (as opposed to your  needs or your projections of what you think they need) will allow them to grow into their own authentic self.  Believe in cultivating your own truths and let your child teach you theirs.  Follow their lead, strengthen your skills, and practice your parenting intentionally to feel competent in your journey.

What parenting skill do you need to practice?

(c) 2016, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance

3 Foundational Parenting Principles

The Parenting Philosophy of Rochester Parenting Coach can be summed up in 3 basic foundational parenting principles: KISS, set yourself up for success, and there is hope.  Essential to these principles is my mission is to empower parents with reflection, intention, and improved communication.  While my hope that your family dynamic improves, my intention is that is comes from the parents trying new approaches as a result of our work together not the kids simply learning new behaviors.  This will create confidence in parents and lasting change in their family.

The first principle is KISS–keep it simple, stupid!

So much of modern-day parenting is a bunch of stuff that gives parents anxiety that they aren’t (insert verb here) for their children.  While kids can be confusing for adults, they aren’t really too complex if you understand their emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development.  All kids (really, all people!) want attention, love, and to be cherished.  Yes, obviously you need some ‘stuff’ to raise a child but don’t be confused by what you want to give your child and what they actually need.  Needs are: a place to sleep, healthy food to eat, toys to keep them stimulated, a safe environment, a good sleep schedule, medical attention when necessary.  Wants are: lots of toys, vacations, added sugar, new almost-anything.

Behaviorally, your kids–no matter their age–need boundaries and love.  They need to know what is allowed of them and what is not tolerated (like violence of any sort, for example).  Boundaries give them comfort because it lets them know your expectations and what they need to do to fulfill those expectations.  Love is a nonnegotiable need for all people.  Different kids accept love in different ways.  Some may want quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch (See 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman).   Give your kids lots of positive reinforcement when they do something you want them to do and give them love unconditionally–no matter what they do.

A simple environment will more likely translate in to a home of more emotional calmness.  When your child is quietly engaged in an activity allow them the peace and quiet to focus on what has captured their attention, no matter how trivial it may seem to you.  Too many toys in a playroom usually results in the kids playing with none of them.  Little children (5 and under) don’t care about expensive experiences–they care about attention from their parents.  If you do take them on an expensive experience (ex. far-away vacation, live theatre, fancy dinner) be honest with yourself that it is more about fulfilling your needs than theirs.   Overstimulation–in activities or environment–will cause anxiety for you and/or your young children–so try hard to keep it simple and have developmentally appropriate expectations!  And remember: the best things in life aren’t things.

It is important to understand your childs cognitive development so that your keep your expectations relative to their abilities.  Cognitive development refers to how they think, problem solve, and learn.  You want to push them just enough so they are interested to learn but not too much that they are overwhelmed and give up.  You want to clarify and simplify your expectations relative to your child’s development and try hard not to compare them to other kids.  Carol Dweck, well celebrated researcher on mindset, reminds us to celebrate the process of learning (which includes mistakes), not just focus on the outcome.  Being labeled “good” or “bad” (fixed mindset) can have detrimental effects on your child’s self-efficacy but being positively reinforced for their growth, hard work, and effort (growth mindset) will give them the encouragement and knowledge that continually learning is the optimal outcome whether they are 2 or 22.

The second principle is: Set yourself up for success.  Parenting is already a hard job–don’t make it harder by bringing your child into a situation that you know will not work out well for them (or you) and expect a miracle.  By adjusting your expectations–making them more realistic and honest with what their needs are–you will make your child and yourself happier, saner, and more relaxed.  Now, obviously there are times when we know we are bringing them into a situation that will be tough for them.  If this is the case, allow them to feel those feelings and recognize your needs versus their needs.  Are they/you upset because they/you are tired/bored/hungry? Are they/you upset because your plans changed? Are they/you angry because you are missing out on a fun time? Are they/you sad that you didn’t get to do what you wanted?  Do you have unreasonably high expectations for yourself?  When I had my first child, my only goal for the first 6 weeks of his life was to keep him alive and to shower everyday.  Seriously those were my life’s goals and some days, that was really hard.  As kids get older, you grow with them and learn to anticipate their needs.  Listen to that voice inside of you–it is the cultivation of a parental instinct and is gets better with the more experience you have as a parent.    

There is hope is the final foundational parenting principle of the Rochester Parenting Coach.  It simply refers to the fact that no matter how poorly behaved your kids are, how challenging they may be, how stressful parenting is, it can get better.  Ask for help early and often.  Don’t wait for little problems (my cute little 2-year-old won’t listen, ha ha!) turn into big problems (why won’t my teenager listen?!!?!).  I started this business after finding that my son was remarkably responsive to a well planned behavioral intervention and thought that everyone deserves to have some experienced eyes on their children and thus their parenting.  Be honest with yourself if you need help–this is a journey and even a slight adjustment can have wide-reaching positive or negative consequences.  You decide.