Putting on shoes and socks independently is an (often frustrating) rite of passage for both children and their parents. Not only does it signal emerging independence in self care skills but it also provides the grounding for the planning and sequencing of more complex self care and play skills. Self care skills where they are performed independently or imitating an adult in doing them is how children learn the foundations of planning and sequencing task performance (be that movement or sequential task performance).
A number of things can make putting shoes and socks on/off difficult for children including: poor finger strength to manipulate the items, difficulty with planning and sequencing so that they cannot order the sequence to overcome the challenges as they occur and limited interest in developing independence in self care tasks.
Big Socks: Use socks that are a bit bigger or more stretchy than needed, as it’s earlier to manipulate them.
Velcro Shoes: Use Velcro or stretch shoes to begin with, not laced or buckled.
Postural Support: Position the child in the corner of a room or wedged against supports so that they have BOTH hands free to manipulate the items rather than having to use one hand to prop themselves upright, leaving only one hand for doing the task. This position also allows the child to have their foot sitting up in front of them for putting on shoes rather than twisted to lie against the ground which makes the task so much harder.
Recommended sequence for shoes and socks off:
Learn to pull shoes off first (technique will vary according to the shoe type)
Then learn to pull socks off. If pulling at the toes does not help, tuck the thumbs into the sock and then pull down towards the heel first
Recommended sequence for shoes and socks on:
First: Making sure the sock is turned the correct way out, scrunch the socks up towards the tip and place onto the child’s toes. Ask the child to pull up towards the heel, seeing that the coloured heel is in roughly in the correct place before then pulling up above the ankle. Ensure they are using two hands simultaneously.
Next Step: Lie the sock in out front of the child on the floor, with the coloured heel down or beneath the bulk of the sock. Encourage the child to pull the sock onto the toes and then up to the ankle so that they can get the coloured heel in the correct place. Only then continue to pull above the ankle. It is much harder for children to re-adjust the heel once the socks are already above the ankle.