Choosing and Fitting the Right Shoe for Your Child

As parents, we always want the best for our children. Did you know that most of our kids are wearing shoes that are too small? Don't feel too bad, it happens to us all (yes, even your friendly neighborhood Houston podiatrist).

We are conditioned to our own adult feet, which are no longer growing. We wear our shoes until they die, and often well past their demise. We buy shoes out of desire, but not necessity. Kids are different.

The feet of children are rapidly growing and developing and need room to do so. But don't give them too much room. The old days of buying shoes with "room to grow" were just our parents trying to stretch the usage of the shoes. Don't do that! Kids need shoes that fit them properly, just like you do.

What do you look for when you are buying shoes for children? First of all - keep shoes off of your infant! Babies who are not yet walking should be barefoot or wearing socks or soft booties nothing more. Oh, and I don't care if they are so cute or match the outfit. Keep them off! Babies need to explore their feet for proper development and feel what it is like to stand and balance barefoot. They need that natural feedback, so let them have it.

I'll relent a bit once the kid starts walking. The shoe, however, needs to be flexible. If you push up under the toe area while holding the shoe, the shoe should flex upwards with minimal resistance. Toddlers' feet also do not need any arch support, so don't look for shoes that have it.

This changes between ages 3 and 4 when you may notice some in-toeing, out-toeing, toe walking, or excessive stumbling. Children this age don't have the ability to compensate for biomechanical forces and issues like adults do. Their pediatrician may tell you that the child will grow out of it. Even so, what most commonly happens is that kids just develop the ability to compensate for those biomechanical forces and the mechanics lead to problems down the road. Identifying issues early and putting a child into a custom foot support, called an orthotic, when needed will allow the kid to develop around a more mechanically correct position. Because of this, the correction that an orthotic device provides to a child may become permanent.

Also at this age, kids start wearing shoes that are more familiar in appearance you your adult shoes. Many athletic shoe companies will make sizes for children. You should also buy a shoe according to the activity, just like you do for adults. For instance a running shoe for kids who enjoy running (not playing, I'm talking about running). The rule of thumb is to have about a half-inch between the longest toe and the end of the shoe.

Your child's feet are crucial to their happiness. Kids are built to go nonstop - bundles of energy to run, jump, play, and climb. If you see your kid sitting out during a game, or refusing to walk when you are out shopping, don't chalk it up to laziness. First check to see if the shoes are too small. If they're not, consider taking the child to a podiatrist to see if there is anything more you can do to get your child active once again.
Dr. Andrew Schneider
Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.
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