Whether they're running, jumping, climbing, or kicking, young feet will encounter different levels of challenge and resistance. Putting them in the wrong shoes can have some regrettable consequences.
Children’s feet start growing around three months into the pregnancy and continue until after puberty. During this period of, say, 14 or 15 years, young feet grow at different rates. Between birth and age four, your child’s feet will typically double in length and will continue to grow at a rapid pace until the age of ten or eleven before slowing down – so check your child’s shoes every two months and be prepared to buy those new shoes for them often!
It’s vital that throughout these years, children have shoes that fit them correctly and that are comfortable. Ill-fitting shoes can cause lasting health issues (including balance and posture problems) by putting uneven or excessive pressure on the feet, or even restricting growth.
What’s the best way to choose shoes for my child?
Any good shoe shop will start by measuring your child’s feet to determine their size which will likely have changed since they were last measured, even if that was only a few months ago – in fact, even the most active children tend to outgrow their shoes long before they wear them out. Normally one foot will be slightly bigger than the other, so measure both feet whilst standing! It is best to measure in the late afternoon as children’s feet swell and settle during the day. Buy shoes to accommodate the biggest of the two feet.
Ideally, you want to choose shoes that are a comfortable fit but which still allow room for movement, there should be a bit of room between the edge of the shoe toe and the edge of your child's toes – around 1.3cm (a thumb width). Length isn’t the only important part of a properly fitting shoe. Width is a factor to consider too. If the length fits but the width does not, then you have the wrong shoe, and vice versa. Sometimes you might need to try several brands and styles. Both length and width should fit properly. Never buy a shoe more than one size bigger.
The shoes should be flexible, fully attached and shouldn’t go over the ankle or elevate the heel above the toes. The sole needs to bend with the foot so that your child’s feet can do their job, so when choosing shoes, try folding the shoes in half to ensure that the shoes are flexible.
It is not a good idea to buy a shoe that is too stiff or sturdy to protect your child’s feet – the feet have muscles to support themselves and overly stiff shoes will not allow these muscles to work and strengthen naturally. Think minimal interference with natural gait while providing protection.
As much as your child might like to look like Mummy in high heels or Daddy in flip flops, avoid choosing miniature versions of grown-up styles not designed with child’s play in mind. Consider how shoes should work for the body, not for the outfit! Children’s shoes should be designed with them in mind and should allow children to do what they do best. Always ask yourself if your child can run and play in the shoes, if not, they could cause a host of problems down the road like back pain, knee pain, and incorrect gait development.
Children’s feet sweat a lot so the upper part of their shoes should be made of breathable materials such as canvas, leather or newer mesh materials. In addition to being more durable, they will help to keep the child's foot cooler and dryer, helping to prevent blisters, discomfort, and smelly shoes. Also, make sure the insole is made of absorbent material.
Laces, Velcro, or other fasteners are best for keeping shoes fastened to provide a firm grip around the foot. Children should be able to walk, run and play comfortably without having to try and keep their feet in their shoes all the time!
As adults, we sometimes say we're "breaking in" a pair of shoes. This is a bad idea for children! Shoes need to be immediately comfortable. Don't allow for a breaking in period or expect shoes to get more comfortable over time, they must fit properly straight away. Let your child walk around the shop in each pair they try on so that they can tell you how they feel. If in doubt, don’t buy!
The quality of the shoe is also important – badly made shoes won’t withstand rigorous play, and if they start to break down, they’ll fail to provide the support your child needs. While it might seem that you’re spending a fortune on shoes, think of it as an investment into your son or daughter’s future health.
What about not wearing shoes?
Some podiatrists believe that shoes may actually do more harm than good, by restricting the way children’s feet grow. Being barefoot lets children receive more “feedback” from the ground, which helps them to balance as they walk or run and develop better posture. When indoors or outside in a safe environment free of hazards such as sharp stones, thorns etc. let them play and run barefoot.
In many ways, the ideal child’s shoe is like the perfect parent: providing lots of support, whilst still allowing a degree of freedom for learning and exploring. Remember that some shoe-free time each day is a good thing for growing feet. In the same way that you’d never want to hold your children back, you don’t want to restrict those tiny toes either!
In Catrobatkidz class, we believe the best shoes are no shoes!
Read What Podiatrists have to Say