One of the most common questions we are asked footwear is “When should my child wear shoes?” and “should they be wearing a supportive shoe or a soft shoe?”
In short, there IS no short answer. What is right for your toddler or child, may be different for someone else. A podiatrist colleague described shoe advice as changing depending on the stages your child is at, we really like this idea! The advice is also different if your child has some foot problems that result in pain or your child having problems with their walking and running. The advice is also different again if your child has a disability or condition that changes their feet. This is really when we need to give personal advice.
BUT, general advice for typically developing little feet is to choose shoes that protect feet while helping kids master the skill they are currently learning. If that skill is walking, a flexible shoe is preferred. But toddlers need lots of barefoot time too. Shoes should also hold onto the foot rather than the foot holding onto the shoe. Little ones have enough to think about already. We think barefoot allowing toddlers to increase muscle strength within their feet and provide sensory experiences for them. This allows toddlers to feel the sensation of their skin touching the ground. There is little research to guide us in the optimal shoe at each stage of walking, in particular in younger children.
In older kids, we know how shoes change walking. When kids wear shoes compared to walking barefoot, they walk faster with longer steps. We think this is because the shoe makes their legs longer, therefore they stride out further? Or maybe the increased weight of the shoe create greater swing during walking. Or is may be just that wearing shoes gives more confidence to stride out further as their feet feel more protected? We don't know why it changes their walking, but don't think them going barefoot will slow them down either.
There is no evidence that says older kids shoes should be flexible or stiffer in the sole. So again, the advice might sometimes need to be personalized. You will notice when shopping with older kids, you will have the options for a flexible or stiffer shoe. Some kids will do perfectly fine with a flexible shoe. Some kids will need a stiffer shoe as they may fatigue or get some foot discomfort after a long day in a flexible shoe.
What we all agree on though is that kids shoes need fixtures like laces, buckles or straps to hold their shoe onto the foot and that the shoe should be the right length and width. Kids shoes can be expensive and they wear them out or grow out of them quickly. Hopefully these tips help you to find the right shoes in your budget. But, if you are having problems with finding the right one or need more personalized advice, come see us to let us help find the right shoes for your child.