The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

The First Pairs: Advice for Choosing Shoes for Young Children

Posted by on Tuesday, November 13th, 2012


Shoe shopping with kids can be a bit of a nightmare. Most kids loathe the word “shopping” unless it has the words “toy store” or “game store” involved. Shoe shopping does not involve games or toys but rather means time spent in front of shelves and shelves of extremely unentertaining shoe boxes. It means sitting still in a chair while your mom or a shoe salesperson puts on and takes off too many pairs of shoes. It means not getting the shiny pink sequined shoes you love because a parent says something like, “You don’t need them,” “Those cost too much,” or “They don’t have them in your size.” It means no fun.

Tangling with the cantankerous bored kid is no picnic for parents, either. In addition to making sure their kid isn’t the one sitting (or running around) and screaming or fighting every pair of shoes offered, they have the added burden of making sure the shoes they choose are good for their child’s feet, as well as being “acceptable” in terms of looks.

So what IS good for kids when it comes to shoes? The old school of thought was that shoes for very young children should be rigid, with lots of motion control, heavily cushioned, and with an elevated heel. Now, though, many pediatricians and podiatrists have come back around to the belief that kids’ feet develop best when interfered with as little as possible. With that in mind, here are some things to consider when picking out those early pairs of shoes for your young child.

Don’t Buy a Shoe Wardrobe When we say let kids feet develop with as little interference as possible, we mean it. In other words, there’s no need for them to have many pairs of shoes because they shouldn’t be wearing shoes that much. Shoes pretty much exist to protect our feet from sharp objects, extreme heat, or cold. Strong feet don’t need shoes with tons of bells and whistles, and the best way for your child to get strong feet is to let him or her spend as much as time as possible walking, running, and playing barefoot or in thin socks. Take every opportunity you can–if your child is having fun in your living room and you don’t have your broken glass collection on the ground, take off the shoes. If your child wants to play in your driveway and you have one of those driveways packed with small rocks, put on the shoes.

Think Barefoot When Choosing Shoes There’s been an ongoing debate over the last few years about minimalist running shoes vs. more traditional running shoes. So far it seems like they’re great for some people, not so great for others. However, minimalist shoes are a good choice for small children. Look for shoes that soles that are thick enough to offer protection from rough or jagged surfaces, but thin enough that your child’s foot muscles can activate and grip with each step.

Be Flexible Rigid, stiff shoes may seem like they’ll help little feet from wobbling and make walking easier, but they cause more problems than they solve. If the shoes are doing all the work, then the child’s feet aren’t doing any of it. You don’t develop muscles or skills by watching someone else work out, and your kids feet won’t get stronger if they’re shoes do everything for them. Choose flexible shoes that bend easily in your hands at the point where the toe joints meet the forefoot.

Go with a Big Toe Go with a big toe box, that is. Babies and young children’s feet are shaped differently than adult feet. Their toes are the widest part of their feet, splaying out a bit. Look for shoes with a wide toe box to accommodate the natural shape of a young child’s forefoot and wider toes, not the narrower toe box that you see in adult shoes (or, heaven forbid, the pointy-toed shoes that too many people favor).

Go Low One of the biggest arguments against traditional running shoes recently has been heels that are built up too high, so your foot in the shoe slopes down from the heel to the toe. The idea was to provide extra cushioning for heels and add motion control, but this idea has fallen out of favor in recent years; even the big running shoe manufacturers are putting out lines of shoes with “zero drop” from the heel to the toes. This is even more important in shoes for kids–a built up heel doesn’t allow the foot to function normally and will hinder the development of the foot.

They’re Not Adults Do you walk into a kids shoe store and think those mini-versions of Louboutins are adorable? Maybe on a doll, not on a real child. Sure, it might be cute that your child wants little heels or pointy-toed cowboy boots  that match yours, but it’s not. It’s just bad for their feet.

The shoes pictured below are wrong, wrong, wrong for babies and toddlers. They’re from a company called “heelarious,” but they should be called “disastrous.”

Not sold on the idea that wearing high-heeled shoes once in a while is bad for a kid’s feet? As pointed out in this USA Today article about the heels on kids’ shoes debate, little kids have a tendency to run, especially if they’re all amped up at some kind of special occasion. Add high heels and you’re upping your chances of leaving that big party to take your daughter to the emergency room for her badly sprained or broken ankle.

With “bad for you” adult shoes, I’ll often say it’s okay for special occasions, but with kids, I think it’s better to just say no all the time. If you give in once, they’ll know they can get you and will pester you until you give in again, and again, and again.

Make Sure They Fit, Make Sure They Like Them Always remember, fit comes first. You’re wasting your money if the shoe doesn’t, even if you think it’s a good buy. And provided everything else is okay–fit, good for their feet–let your child pick the shoes he or she wants, no matter how ugly you think they are. They won’t wear them if they don’t like them. Lose this battle to win the shoe shopping war so you have a kid who feels happy in his or her new shoes.

Indeed, when it comes to shoes, the less screaming and crying the better. If you’ve followed all these tips and your child seems to feel uncomfortable in any of their shoes or walks peculiarly in them, you should make an appointment to see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine ( 212.996.1900 ). If there’s a problem with your child’s feet, it will help to find out about it early.

Happy–or at least peaceful–shoe shopping!  



If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.