Choosing shoes for your children can play a critical role in their musculoskeletal development, including their posture in later years. In general, infants just learning to walk do not need shoes; the child may go barefooted indoors, or wear only a pair of socks. This helps the foot grow normally and develop its muscles and strength, as well as the grasping ability of toes.
Here are some tips when purchasing shoes for children:
- Both child's feet should be measured, and if two different sizes, shoes should be chosen that fit the larger foot best.
- Examine the shoe itself. It should have a firm heel counter (stiff material on either side of the heel), adequate cushioning of the insole, and a built-in arch. It should be flexible enough to bend where the foot bends at the ball of the foot, not in the middle of the shoe.
- Have the child walk around the store for more than just a few minutes wearing the shoe with a normal sock. Ask the child if he or she feels any pressure spots in the shoe. Feel the inside of the shoe for any staples or irregularities in the glue that could cause irritation. Examine where the inside stitching hits the foot. Look for signs of irritation on the child's foot after the shoe is worn.
- Never try to force your child's feet to fit a pair of shoes.
- Shoes should not slip off at the heels. Children who tend to sprain their ankles will do better with high-top shoes or boots.
- The child's foot should be sized while he or she is standing up with full weight-bearing.
- There should be about one-half inch of space (or a thumb's width) between the tip of the toes and the end of the shoe. The child should be able to comfortably wiggle his or her toes in the shoe.
A soft, pliable, roomy shoe such as a sneaker is ideal for all children. The toe box should provide enough space for growth, and should be wide enough to allow the toes to wiggle. (A finger's breadth of extra length will usually allow for about three to six months' worth of growth, though this can vary depending on your child's age and rate of growth.)
If your child frequently removes his or her shoes, those shoes may be uncomfortable. Check your child's feet periodically for signs of too-tight shoes, such as redness, calluses or blisters. And have your child's feet measured periodically at the shoe store to determine whether his or her feet have grown enough to warrant a larger pair of shoes.
Remember that the primary purpose of shoes is to prevent injury. Shoes seldom correct children's foot deformities or change a foot's growth pattern. Casting, bracing or surgery are often needed if a serious deformity is present. If you notice a problem, have your child examined.
Because high-top shoes tie above the ankle, they are recommended for younger children who may have trouble keeping their shoes on. Contrary to common belief, however, high-top shoes offer no advantages in terms of foot or ankle support over their low-cut counterparts.