Sure, this is a cute look...but heels outside of dressup are damaging to a child's feet

What shoes kids should wear, and at what age, is a hot discussion topic in my podiatry circles. Parents often rush the shoe decision. They'll put babies in shoes when that's bad for their development. And they'll put little girls in high heels, well before it's time. 

Now, I totally understand why that happens. I mean, have you seen how cute those tiny baby Jordans are? And you just have to take one walk down the “kids” section of any clothing store these days to know that children are dressing more maturely than ever these days…

But how far should we be carrying these trends? And what price are we willing to pay for cute sneaks or little-lady looks? I mean, even if it’s absolutely an adorable look, is it really ok to let a three-year-old rock a pair of stilettos? Let's take a deep dive into this controversial topic! 

When do Kids Need to Wear Shoes, Really? 

Did you know that infants who can't walk don't need shoes? In fact, putting them in shoes could change the way their feet develop. Or, it could delay their walking onset. So, if you need to cover your baby's feet for warmth, choose a sock or soft bootie.

Then, once your little one is cruising or walking, the shoe needs change. Now, they need foot coverings that protect them from sharp objects or germ-laden surfaces. Still, because little feet develop balance, coordination and strength from engaging with the floor, it's a good idea to let them walk barefoot at home. (As long as you're in a safe environment with no sharp objects. And as long as they don't walk barefoot for too long on hard surfaces, since that can lead to foot pain down the road. ) 

Once children reach school age, shoes are a must. And they should be supportive. With flexibility in the midsole, and toe-wiggling room. That way, you can avoid childhood concerns like ingrown toenails, or foot pain. 

But back to the original question. At what age can my daughter wear high heels? I'd love to say, never. But I know that's not a practical answer. So, instead, I'll share some wisdom with you from sources I trust deeply. 

At What Age Can My Daughter Wear High Heels? 

Here’s my thoughts on the question. (And they happen to be backed up by the American Podiatric Medical Association.) Dress up is one thing, but if we’re talking about selecting shoes that kids will actually walk in, I’d take a hard pass on heels for any little kid or even tween. That means, we're not looking at high heels until late middle school at the earliest. But later would be better, say the experts. 

Dr. Ramona Brooks, one time spokeswoman for the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), told  Footwear News that you shold wait until kids are between 14 and 16 years old — if not longer—to try out that first pair of high heels. Why is that the case? She explains. “By this age, the growth plates have fully closed and feet have stopped growing. Also, the muscles in the legs and feet are well-developed to be able to tolerate greater stress,.  Finally, she reminds parents that high heels can contribute to a number of problems. And these include lower back pain, shin splints, ankle sprains and fractures, bunions and hammertoes. So, even when young women start wearing heels, they should do so sparingly. 

High Heels at Any Age: A Real Problem 

Of course, even once they have completely stopped growing, children aren’t completely safe wearing high heels. After all, the off-kilter soles can affect both posture and your center of gravity. And that means girls in high heels are more likely to trip and fall. In turn, this increases their risk for sprains and even fractures. 

Another thing to consider? The longer you wear high heels, the worse the damage can be. Because shoe-related damage is cumulative, discovering high heels at a young age just gives these shoes more time to hurt your daughter. That means they may face a shortened Achilles tendon, or changes to their foot structure, at younger than average ages. In turn, they may end up dealing with foot surgery that otherwise could have been avoided. 


Final Thoughts for Parents

Now, I'm both a podiatrist and a father, with a teenage daughter who has her own mind and way of doing things. So I know that telling young women what to wear isn't always so easy. But I do have this last thought to share. 

Childhood is for running, playing, learning, growing and having fun. Our kids don’t get that many years to enjoy these simple joys. And it seems like that blissful period of innocence gets shorter with each passing year. So why would we want to prematurely put them in shoes that make the business of childhood more difficult? Or try to get them to grow up by dressing them in mini-me stilettos? 

Of course, if your kid loves fancy shoes, or playing dress up, I'm not here to be a killer of fun. And it’s not a big deal to try on a pair of high heels here or there for limited periods of play. But I really need that time to be limited. Maybe, you can allow for an hour or so in one special pair of high heels, for a special occasion. But if we’re talking about really wearing heels? Just like texting and driving…it can wait! At least until your daughter turns 14. But ideally longer, if you can win that battle. 

Having said all that, I deal in reality. So I know that your daughter may have snuck into high heels early and could already be suffering from foot or ankle pain. Well, if that's the case, let's not delay getting her the help she needs to feel better. Instead, contact Houston pediatric podiatrist Dr. Andrew Schneider for an immediate appointment. We'll get her walking comfortably again. And I can even play the bad guy, and give her a talk about making better shoe choices!