It can be a struggle to find correct footwear for foot health. Healthy footwear for adults is a well-explored topic, but often an overlooked one when it comes to children. Many children do not complain if their shoes aren’t right for them; they don’t know any better. And yet, shoe selection is an extremely important consideration when dealing with children’s immature and developing lower extremities. With a bewildering choice in children’s shoes, it can be difficult to make the correct decision as a parent. Just what shoe style is right for proper foot growth?
Footwear is mostly attractive to children because of bright sparkly colours, but this obviously has nothing to do with the way the shoes function for your child. Parents must overcome the barrier of cute, sparkly designs and decide what is best for their children’s foot development.
While younger than 13 months, children are still gaining proprioception and a sense of balance with their feet: they can use socks, no shoes or very soft lightweight shoes. Anything on the feet should be functioning only as a protective barrier. Soft flexible shoes are preferred to encourage leg and foot muscle function and to allow optimal foot development.
Try to minimize accidents that your child could meet by ensuring their soft shoes or socks are not slippery on the surfaces they are scrambling around on. A thin soft rubber sole will reduce the risk of falling on marble flooring.
As children move into toddlerhood, they acquire new skills: standing, walking, jumping and exploring new environments. New skills mean new shoes; your child now not only needs protection from the environment, but stability with every step. Sturdier shoe outsoles are ideal: a soft sneaker or casual canvas shoe with Velcro straps, to ensure that the shoe does not easily fall off of the foot. Ensure that the shoe soles are flexible at the forefoot area (the toebox), in order to encourage the development of an adult heel-to-toe gait pattern. Minimize any restrictions to the function and development of the forefoot.
Over the age of 2, toddlers can start to use open-toe footwear, preferably sandals with a heel and/or ankle straps. Slippers and slip-on shoes should be reserved for older children who are more stable, and strong enough to walk longer distances.
Remember that the cost of a shoe is not what is important; higher cost does not mean better quality. What matters are the features, fit, and functions provided by the shoe design. An inexpensive shoe can function just as well as an expensive shoe, especially for young children. However, we podiatrists do recommend against parents wishing to use second-hand footwear. Firstly, there is the risk of spreading foot fungus and wart viruses. Secondly, children’s feet do mould to shoes; wearing another’s moulded shoes can interfere with a child’s critical foot development.