With so many commercials sized to fit the vast array of running shoes, cross trainers and walking shoes for adults, not much attention is given to kids’ shoes. Parents often have unanswered questions about their kids’ shoes. How young should a baby first wear shoes? What to look for when buying shoes, and how often should shoes be checked for proper fit? In this article, we’ll answer these questions.
First, some people have the misconception that kids need shoes on their feet to help support their arches. That is a false notion. Shoes are only needed to protect the bottoms of kids’ feet. Experts say that allowing kids to walk barefoot indoors will actually strengthen growing foot and ankle muscles and help develop the intricate system of balance and coordination.
As the foot grips the ground and the toes spread for balance, the brain is constantly receiving messages from the foot. These messages indicate the foot position, whether body weight is centered on the foot or off to one side or the other, and the type of texture underneath the foot.
This process can be seen as a toddler starts to walk, and encounters a thick rug in contrast to a hard floor. You can see the change in the child’s ability to maintain balance. It is recommended that parents wait until a baby has been walking at least six weeks before putting shoes on the youngster’s feet.
Shoes aren’t necessary when babies are just lying or sitting for long periods of time. Since growing little feet tend to curl when no weight is on them, and tend to widen when weight is on them, it is important to have loose fitting socks or booties. Cartilage, blood vessels and nerves are sensitive to being compressed and anything chronically tight fitting can produce long-term effects.
When the kid is ready to wear shoes, make sure that the shoes have a flexible sole. Remember, the thicker the sole, the less grip the toes will have and the more challenging it will be to achieve balance. The shoe should bend easily at the ball of the foot to allow for natural foot movement. The soles of the shoes should be non-slip—for added safety when walking on hard wood floors or tile. Rubber soles tend to work well.
The front of the shoe, called the toe box, should be wide and allow for plenty of wiggle room. Remember, chubby toes spread when the foot bears weight—so check the toe box while the toddler is standing.
Lastly, shoes made of natural materials, such as leather, allow the foot to breathe. Avoid plastic or other man-made materials, which can cause the feet to get hot and perspire.
Shoes should be checked frequently for fit, as new shoes may be needed as often as every 6-8 weeks when a baby first starts to walk. The insole should extend about one inch beyond the longest toe and be wide enough for toes to lie flat. Shoes should offer plenty of room for feet but shouldn’t be so loose that the heel slips off when the child comes up on tiptoes.
Studies have found that 4 out of every 5 children wore shoes that were too tight when the kids started school. To avoid the risk of long-term damage, such as claw toes, bunions and a host of other orthopedic and postural issues in later life, check shoe fit often.
Keep in mind that after checking the fit of a shoe, the best determination of whether a shoe is right for your child is your instincts and observations. If your child walks well in a new pair of shoes, then the child should be fine. If your child looks awkward and unbalanced with a new pair of shoes on, try a different pair.