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Simo Dad Sci Museum 2015 009Myths and false information abound about children’s shoes, and the footwear industry and even some pediatricians are not much help. The good news is once you understand what makes children’s feet unique, finding the right shoes—often inexpensively—for kids is easy.

At birth, the newborn’s foot is soft and flexible, and is loaded with fat. That fat cushions and protects our feet, but when we start to walk, the fat begins to disintegrate. In the coming decades, due to everyday walking—not to mention, perhaps tight fitting shoes—that fat will wear away allowing our foot bones and their rough edges to dig into our skin, often causing corns, callouses, blisters and other painful conditions. Ironically, feet are the only body part that loses fat as we age, yet it’s the one place we need it. I’ve often mused that perhaps some day we’ll go for a tummy tuck and walk out with plump, happy feet.

Besides fat, a newborn’s bones, muscles and ligaments, are incredibly soft and pliable. This is good and bad. It’s good because a baby that is born with a deformed foot often doesn’t need surgery. A brace or a cast can “push” the foot into its correct position. The downside of such a flexible foot is that if parents choose the wrong shoes or footwear for their children, they could create a deformity for their child.

Don’t be in a hurry to buy shoes for your child; wait until your children begin to walk, usually at 11 to 15 months of age. Even then, the MOST IMPORTANT THING TO DO IS KEEP SHOES OFF YOUR CHILD’S FEET AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

I cannot emphasize this enough! The best “shoes” for your children is no shoes!

Allowing children to walk in bare feet on various surfaces, particularly ones which are somewhat uneven such as the kind that are found in most backyards, encourages the proper development of the muscles and ligaments in their feet, along with correct balance.

Shoes Can Harm Your Child’s Feet

To see the effect shoes have on feet, scientists compared American feet to those of African natives who had never worn shoes. Most natives’ had a straight big toe, whereas the Americans’ big toe tilted toward the second toe, often causing a bunion—a bump on the inside of the foot. This deformed big toe is due, in part, to shoes curving inward at the toes, presumably to give feet a slender, pointed appearance.

Am I saying shoes are bad for your child’s feet? Yes! However, we need them though to prevent injuries and for warmth. The key is to make sure children only wear them when absolutely necessary.

Socks can also be a deforming force as well, limiting a baby or toddler’s ability to spread and wiggle their toes, and develop their toe muscles. Young children should only wear socks when in shoes. If you’re in a situation where your child’s feet need to be kept warm, utilize loose fitting booties that are soft and supple.

When purchasing shoes, select a type with lots of room for your child’s toes to move freely. I recommend a finger’s width of space at the tips of the toes, and to help your child avoid developing bunions, the shoe should have as little curvature as possible at the big toe. Look for shoes made of natural, breathable fabrics such as leather or canvas that are soft and pliable—just like your child’s feet. You want the foot protected but it should also “feel” the ground.

The traditional baby shoe with its stiff upper and hard sole is the worst thing for young feet.

Parents notice when their child outgrows a shirt, but not always when their shoes are too small. Children’s feet grow at different rates so the time to buy new shoes varies greatly. I’ve seen kids grow an entire shoe size in a month. If your child starts pulling off their shoes, it could mean they’ve outgrown them.

Lastly, consider shopping at a shoe store that specializes in children’s feet and has the expertise to ensure a proper fit.

Final Thoughts on Children’s Shoes

Shoes are not healthy for your child’s foot. However, they are necessary. The key is to make sure you buy a barefoot-friendly shoe and keep it off your child’s feet as much as possible.

  • Aliesa George

    Hi Dr. Nirenberg! I always love the information that you share. Hope that LOTS of people are finding these posts. Hey, my comment on finding barefoot-friendly shoes for children is this: Parents…Please don’t think that putting your kids in flip-flops or a clog is the ultimate bare-foot friendly shoe! In teaching foot-fitness workshops I see so many feet who’s muscles aren’t trained to work well (both kids & adults) and I agree that bad shoes are a big part of the issue! If the shoe doesn’t fit well AND it’s not strapped onto your foot – it’s not a good shoe!

  • Primigi shoes

    For me in choosing the better foot wear for our kids, we need to consider the cost but then in good quality material. Color and design are also included. And for children i would prefer a closed shoes and not slippers or flip-flops.

  • kids flip flops

    This is really informative. It's really nice that you'd share this to us!

  • Kids Footwear

    I really appreciate this. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • TMD

    Check out Soft Star Shoes!! They make amazing shoes for kids that are very flexible, without a heel rise, and made with soft leather.  They are the ultimate kids barefoot shoes.  Yes, they may be expensive, but your kids feet are worth it!  I always get a size bigger, but because they are so flexible, it’s not a big deal.  My daughter has never had a blister or complained about her shoes.  Half the time she wears them without socks.  They are amazing! I even started buying them for myself and now have become a minimalist in footwear.  LOVE IT!! My feet never hurt anymore and are really strong…priceless!! :)

  • Mom

    Misleading. Don’t say “children” in title if you are talking about infants and toddlers. No help at all when my search was for shoes for an 11 year-old.

  • primigi

    When your child is at 3-8 months, much better that you put a socks. You can put a shoes when the child is 1-2 yrs old or when the child started to crawl.

  • Baby Converse

    Absolutely true. Soft soles are only the best choice for the children feet. They help a lot in the development of muscles and strength of the feet. As their upper portion is made from soft and flexible material, it allow to move the feet with a greater comfort. 

  • Lilly

    Not helpful in relation to children other than infants and toddlers. Would be of assistance if a wider range of age was also discussed here.

  • sweetchicpunk

    The most barefoot like shoes possible even for older kids are best for development.  The feet are still developing even when a child is 11 years old!