As a parent of three (now pretty big) kids, I know how expensive the shoe-buying process can be. It seems like, every time you turn around, one of those kids has outgrown or worn out their shoes. Which means you have to shell out for yet another pair. So, I also completely understand how tempting it can be to wiggle feet into shoes that still sort of fit. Or to purchase shoes that give kids’ feet “room to grow”—i.e. shoes that are one or two sizes larger than your child’s feet currently need.

But, as it turns out, those are both very bad idea. Why? Wearing shoes that are too small hurts kids feet. And that pain could even change their foot shape, over time. Plus, buying too-big kids’ shoes won’t actually save you money. And it just might cause your children to experience foot pain, or even long-term complications. Here’s what you need to know.

Signs Your Child's Outgrown a Shoe

Sometimes you know right away when kids need new shoes. Like if their toes are hanging off the edge. Or if there are holes in their sneakers. Other times, the signs are more subtle. Here are a few things to watch for. 

1. Ask your child to life his or her toes with shoes on. If there's no rooom to do so, the shoes are too tight. 

2. If your child ever says his or her toes are numb, chances are it's time for new shoes. 

3. If your child struggles to get his or her heel into a shoe, it doesn't fit anymore. 

4. There should be at least a thumb's width space between your child's toes and the end of their shoes. If that's not the case, it's time to replace! 

Ok, so now you know when your child's shoes are too small. So let's talk about buying new ones. And why you should never go too large! 

Up-Sizing Shoes Hurts Kids’ Feet Sure, he'll fit those sneakers for years, but wearing shoes that are too large will hurt your child's feet!

If you put your child in large shoes, you’re inviting a world of hurt. Because there will be so much room in those shoes, they may rub against your child’s feet, causing them to develop blisters. If you miss that blister, or don’t treat it properly, your child could develop a foot infection, which is obviously the last thing you want to happen. Plus, you can’t forget: friction in kids’ shoes can leave more of a mark than just blisters. Over time, your little one may end up with callouses (hardened patches of skin), especially on his or her heels, if you don’t put her in a properly-sized shoe.   

And, another thing about that extra room. Since the rubbing is so uncomfortable, your child will work hard to avoid shoe movement. This may cause him to grip the shoes with his toes. But, when her toes stay in a gripped position, day after day, her anatomy may actually be altered—especially since little feet are still developing. Therefore, over time, we see kids’ coming into the office with bunions and hammertoes—often because they were stuck in shoes that just didn’t fit right!

But Wait: What About Fitting My Child's Wide Foot? 

Some children with wide feet actually have flat feet. (Their collapsing arch causes spread.) But some have a wider foot profile. And that can make it tempting to buy a larger shoe size. After all, wide-sized kids' shoes are tough to find, though New Balance sneakers usually offer some good options. 

Here's the deal. When you size up for a better sneaker fit on kids with wide feet, you're buying more room at the toes. So, even though they may feel less pinching at the side, their feet will slip and slide in those bigger kicks. This could mean more rubbing and blisters. Which was probably what you wanted to avoid in their correctly-sized, regular-width shoes. In other words, don't put kids with wide feet in a larger shoe size. Just seek out styles with more width in the shoe body. 

Wearing Large Shoes Puts Kids in Danger

Now, we’ve already reviewed the foot-problems that can develop when kids wear shoes that are too big. But let’s talk about the clear-and-present danger: up-sizing increases your child’s risk of falling. You know that extra length in the toes, the space you were hoping would keep your child in those shoes a little bit longer?

Wearing a larger-sized shoe leaves your child's foot vulnerable to injury

Well, it can affect your child’s balance, especially when he first starts wearing the shoes. And that means she’ll be more likely to fall (over those feet, possibly head-first) especially on uneven surfaces. Like the stairs at school or the ladders on the playground. I don’t mean to scare you, but then again, I kind of do…the last thing I want is for you to purchase a new pair of shoes that lands your little one in the ER with a bad sprain or fracture after a fall.

Bigger Shoes Actually Cost More Money

Now, let’s examine the truth about buying a size-too-big shoe for your child. If you’re making this move to save money, guess what? It could actually cost you more in the long run! Aside from all the medical complications we’ve reviewed, which could prove costly to treat, consider this: if your child’s shoes hurt, he or she will likely refuse to wear them, often within weeks of your purchase. And, as anyone who’s ever had a morning shoe battle understands, that will simply send you back to the shoe store for another new pair.

But, the problem gets worse. If your child is falling a lot because his shoes are too big, you may be advised to purchase custom orthotics in order to improve his stability. Of course, they will help, but you may have to pay a premium price for those inserts, when you could have simply purchased a shoe that actually fits!  Wouldn’t it be safer (and simpler) to simply have your child’s feet measured by a pro, and purchase shoes in the size that the expert recommends? I certainly think it is!

Finding the Safest Shoes for Your Child

Sometimes, you may think sizing up is unavoidable. After all, many children have wide feet that feel squeezed in shoes that are the appropriate length. But, even here, you don’t have to move to the next size of shoe. Instead, look for brands with wide styles (New Balance is a great option, but there are plenty of others, as well.)

Of course, you should also avoid handing shoes down from sibling to sibling. Even if the shoes are the right size for your child, they’ll have settled into the shape of the original wearer’s foot. And that may leave extra room in some places, or cause pinching in others. It could even impact the younger child’s foot development. So just don’t do it. Have each child get measured and try on brand new shoes that really fit!

It’s also best to avoid online shoe shopping for children. Even if you purchase several sizes, kids are prone to saying shoes feel fine if they: 1. Think they look cool or 2. Want to be done with trying on shoes so they can do something else. Bringing potentially ill-fitting shoes into your home is just a recipe for disaster.

So, what’s the right way to shoe shop for kids? Well, I hinted at it earlier (Were you paying attention?) If not, this is the recap: bring your child into a shoe store. Have his or her feet measured. Have the child try on several brands of shoes in the size recommended by your shoe-expert. Ask how each pair feels. Have the child walk and run a few laps in each pair, and purchase the one that feels and fits the best. If you follow that simple formula, I’m far less likely to see you in my office for other foot problems!

Of course, if your child is having foot pain regardless of the shoes you choose, it's time to get checked. Contact Houston podiatrist Dr. Andrew Schneider for an immediate appointment.


Dr. Andrew Schneider
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A podiatrist and foot surgeon in Houston, TX.
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