Appropriate footwear for children changes with each phase of childhood. Wearing the proper footwear is critical for correct development of the foot structure, as well as the body’s overall posture.
During infancy, shoes are not necessary, even for beginning walkers, as the main function of shoes is to protect the feet from injuries. In fact, it is advisable for infants to wear just socks or to remain barefoot so the foot’s musculoskeletal system can properly form and gain function without restriction. In this way, the feet will develop strength and the toes will learn to grasp. Toddlers should wear shoes that are soft, flexible, and properly fitted with a toe box that has room for growth and space for the toes to wiggle freely. Children’s footwear should have a stiff heel counter, cushioned insole, and built-in arch. It should also be flexible at the ball of the foot. Sneakers are usually a good choice, and high-tops may benefit children with weak or sprain-prone ankles.
When fitting a child for new footwear, have him or her stand up to properly measure foot size. Remember that feet may commonly be two different sizes; the shoes should be fitted to accommodate the larger of the two feet. A properly-fitting shoe will have about a half-inch of room between the toes and tip of the shoe, which is about the width of an adult’s thumb. Have the child wiggle his or her toes to make sure they are not cramped or restricted. Wearing their usual socks, have the child walk around the store several times to check for redness or irritation that indicates friction or pressure from the shoe.
Since children quickly outgrow their shoes, check their feet regularly for blisters and irritation. Often, children will remove shoes on their own if they are uncomfortable or too tight. Certain foot deformities may require a child to wear corrective shoes, braces, or casts.