Buying footwear for your little one can be daunting! Here are some tips to help you shop wisely.
When it comes to children’s footwear, there’s no shortage of choice, so it can be difficult to know which shoes are best for your little one. Read on for advice to get you started.
Which shoes should you choose for your baby?
If your baby isn’t walking yet
A baby who isn’t walking yet doesn’t need to wear shoes. Babies usually begin to stand or attempt their first steps at around 8 or 9 months old. Before then, footwear only serves to keep their feet warm or protected from the sun.
If your tyke has yet to take this big step, your best choice is a very flexible shoe that won’t hinder their foot movements, like leather booties with soft soles (e.g., Robeez®). Booties are a gentle way to get your baby used to footwear.
When your baby starts to walk
Once your baby is cruising or walking, it’s best to let them be barefoot as often as possible to encourage their foot development.
Walking barefoot allows your baby to feel the ground and work the small muscles in their feet. They develop stability, balance, coordination, and strength. As long as your baby is indoors, there’s no need for them to wear shoes.
Letting your baby walk barefoot on different surfaces (e.g., on grass, sand, carpets, mattresses, beds) also exercises their proprioception, or ability to perceive their body in space.
Of course, if your baby is walking outside or in public, they need shoes to protect their feet. Their first shoes should be light and flexible and have a cushioned sole.
Shoes with higher ankles aren’t necessary, as they don’t offer better support than shoes with low-cut ankles. However, they do have the advantage of being more difficult for a toddler to remove!
Choosing shoes for a child aged 2 to 5
By age 2, children are becoming increasingly agile. They’re also better walkers—which means it may be time for a comfy pair of shoes! When choosing footwear for your little one, remember the following:
- The shoe should be lightweight.
- The sole should bend at the toes to allow natural foot movements.
- The sole should be non-slip (e.g., rubber) to prevent your child from slipping.
- The shoe should be made of breathable material (e.g., leather, certain synthetic fabrics used in sneaker manufacturing) to keep your child’s feet ventilated. Avoid synthetic materials (e.g., artificial leather) that trap foot perspiration.
What is my child’s shoe size?
To find the best fit for your child, go shoe shopping together. Here’s the best technique to measure your little one’s foot:
If the insole is removable:
- Remove the insole from the shoe and place it on the floor.
Have your child stand upright and place their foot on the insole. Their toes should not extend beyond the sole lengthwise.
There should be a gap (about 1 cm) between your child’s big toe and the tip of the sole to allow a little growing room.
If the insole is not removable:
Have your child put on the shoe and stand upright. Your index finger should fit snugly between your child’s heel and the back of the shoe. Your child should also be able to move their toes.
Press down on the front of your child’s shoes to make sure there’s some wiggle room. If their toes are squished against the sides, the shoe is too tight and they need a larger pair.
Ask your little one to walk or even run around the store to make sure the shoes are comfortable. This is a must!
Can my child wear second-hand shoes?
Your child can wear second-hand shoes provided they’re still in good condition. Avoid shoes with obvious signs of wear.
Before accepting a pair of hand-me-downs for your little one, always check the following:
- The soles are not overly worn and are still non-slip. There should be no signs of uneven wear on the inner or outer soles, especially around the heels.
- The heels are not damaged. If they have vertical seams, these should be perpendicular to the floor.
- The insoles are in good condition. If not, you can replace them, provided the rest of the shoe is in good shape.
- The fastening system (laces or Velcro straps) still works well and keeps the foot secure. If the shoes are in good condition and only the Velcro straps are damaged, you can replace them.
- The shoes have been well cleaned and disinfected, even if they belonged to a family member. You can use a textile disinfectant spray to eliminate the fungi that cause athlete’s foot, odour-causing bacteria, and viruses (e.g., the virus that causes plantar warts).
When will my child outgrow their shoes?
According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, before the age of 3, a toddler’s feet grow an average of half a size every 2 to 3 months. After age 3, their feet grow by about 1 size every year. That said, all children develop at their own pace. The best strategy is to regularly check that your child’s toes have wiggle room. If not, it’s time to size up.
Choosing shoes for school
The recommendations above also apply to shoes for school. Remember, your child will be wearing their shoes all day for a variety of activities. It’s important to choose shoes made with durable materials and a secure fastening system (i.e., laces or Velcro straps) to keep them firmly on your little one’s feet.
Teach your child to tie or fasten their shoes when they put them on and to unfasten or untie them before taking them off. This will ensure optimal foot support and prevent the heel counter (the part of the shoe that wraps around the heel) from collapsing prematurely.
Features to look for in a sandal
In warm weather, sandals are ideal to keep your child’s feet cool. However, they should have the following features:
- A solid heel counter
- An ankle strap and at least one strap at the front of the foot
- A non-slip sole (e.g., rubber)
Closed-toe sandals, also known as hiking sandals (e.g., KEEN®, Teva®, Geox®), are a great choice, as they’re halfway between sandals and sneakers. They keep your child’s feet cool while providing stability thanks to the heel counter and non-slip sole. Plus, they often have rubber toe caps to guard against bumps and stubbed toes.
Flip-flops and Crocs®
Sandals like flip-flops or Crocs® should only be worn for activities that require little walking (e.g., going to the beach or pool), as they don’t provide adequate foot support. Without straps to keep their feet stable, your child will constantly have to grip the sandals with their toes.
Flip-flops should also be avoided, as their backless design allows your child’s feet to move around too much. Frequent flip-flop wearing can cause discomfort, irritation, and blisters.
For outdoor activities or longer walks, opt for sandals that provide more support.
Choosing winter boots
In winter, choose a warm, waterproof, lightweight boot with laces or straps that hold the foot securely in place. When your child is trying on boots, have them wear a thick pair of winter socks to get an accurate fit.
Be sure to dry your child’s boots between uses. Consider investing in a boot dryer and some extra felt soles to get you through the coldest months.
When should you consult a podiatrist?
Babies are born with flat feet; their arches gradually form as their feet grow. Therefore, there is no need to see a podiatrist for flat feet before they turn 3. Children over 3 can still be flat-footed without it being a cause for concern.
However, you should consult a podiatrist in the following situations:
You child complains of leg pain
They stumble often
They get tired quickly when walking
They often ask to be carried or to ride in their stroller
Things to keep in mind
When your baby starts to walk, it’s best to leave them barefoot as often as possible.
Your baby’s first shoes should be light and flexible. Shoes with higher ankles aren’t necessary.
When choosing footwear for a 2-year-old, look for a comfortable shoe with a non-slip sole.
In summer, opt for closed-toe sandals, which keep your child’s feet cool while providing stability and protection.
In winter, choose warm, waterproof, lightweight boots.
Scientific review: Dr. Anik Chauvette, podiatrist, lecturer, and clinician at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: March 2023
Photos: GettyImages/kindle_photography, Selektor, akova, popovaphoto, jinjo0222988, AlekseySagitov, Serhii Tsyhanok et Techin24
Sources and references
Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.
American Podiatric Medical Association. “Buying children’s footwear.” apma.org
Canadian Podiatric Medical Association. “Foot health.” podiatrycanada.org
Grueger, B. Canadian Paediatric Society, Community Paediatrics Committee. “Footwear for children.” Paediatrics & Child Health, vol. 14, no. 2, February 2009. academic.oup.com
Ordre des podiatres du Québec. “Soins des pieds.” ordredespodiatres.qc.ca
Ordre professionnel de la physiothérapie du Québec. “Choisir des chaussures pour son enfant : se poser les bonnes questions pour partir du bon pied.” oppq.qc.ca
Shultz, S. P., et al. “Metabolic differences between shod and barefoot walking in children.” International Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 37, no. 5, May 2016. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Footwear for children.” 2018. caringforkids.cps.ca
Wegener, Caleb, et al.“Effect of children’s shoes on gait: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, January 2011. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov