Choosing proper footwear for children

Choosing proper footwear for children
First pair of shoes, sneakers, sandals… Read our tips to choose wisely!


Shoe stores carry such a wide variety of models that choosing the right pair for a child is not always straightforward. Here are some tips to guide you.

Which shoes should you choose for your baby?

When baby isn’t walking yet

Children who have not yet learned to walk do not need to wear shoes. As a general rule, before the age of 8 or 9 months (at which time some children start to stand up and try to take their first steps), shoes are only used to keep their feet warm or away from the sun, for example.

At this time, the best choice is a very flexible shoe that does not prevent the feet from moving, such as leather slippers (e.g., Robeez style slippers). Having your baby wear such slippers is a gentle way to get them used to wearing something on their feet.

When baby is starting to walk

When your baby is beginning to cling to the furniture to move about or is starting to walk, it is recommended to leave them barefoot as often as possible to foster healthy foot development. Walking barefoot allows the small muscles of the foot to work. This develops the child’s stability, balance, coordination, and muscle strength. It is therefore not necessary to have a baby wear shoes inside the house when learning to walk.

Letting your child walk barefoot on different surfaces (e.g., on grass, sand, carpets, mattresses, beds) also exercises their ability to perceive their body in space.

Of course, your baby needs shoes to protect their feet, for example when walking outside or in public places. In this case, their first pair of shoes should be light and flexible with a cushioned sole. They must also be snug on the heel to prevent their foot from slipping forward inside their shoes when walking.

Some studies have also shown that wearing shoes has some advantages for toddlers. They boost their confidence and encourage them to take steps.

However, it is not necessary to buy walking boots. Shoes with higher ankle support don’t necessarily offer better support than shoes with low-cut ankles.

Choosing a good pair of shoes for a child aged 2 to 5 years

By the age of 2, your child is increasingly confident in their movements. They are better at walking and thus need a comfortable pair of shoes. Check the following when choosing shoes for your toddler:

  • The shoe should be lightweight.
  • The sole should bend at the toes to foster natural movement of the foot.
  • The sole should be non-slip (e.g. rubber) to prevent the child from slipping.
  • The sole should be slightly thicker at the heel.
  • The shoe must be made of a “breathable” material, such as leather or certain synthetic fabrics used in sneaker manufacturing, to allow the foot to be well ventilated. Avoid synthetic materials, such as faux leather, which trap foot perspiration.
  • Remember to run your fingers along the inside of the shoe to check that no seams that would irritate the foot over time.

What shoe size?

To choose the right shoe size, go shopping with your child. Here’s the perfect technique for choosing the right shoe size:

  • Remove the insole.
  • Place the insole on the floor and ask your child to stand on it with their foot. The toes must not protrude from the sides of the sole.
  • An empty space of about 1 cm should remain between the longest toe and the tip of the sole to allow the foot to grow a little.

If the insole cannot be taken out:

  • Ask your child to put on the shoe and to stand up. You must be able to insert your index finger behind their heel. Your child must also be able to move their toes.
  • Press your fingers at the tip of the shoe to feel their toes. If you feel that they are “pushing” against the sides of the shoe, it is a sign that their toes are too tight and they need a larger pair;
  • Ask your child to walk around the store and tell you if the shoes are comfortable.

Can you pass shoes previously worn by another child on to your child?

Your child can wear second-hand shoes, but they must be in good condition. Avoid shoes that are too worn.

Before giving second-hand shoes to your child, make sure of the following:

  • The sole is not too worn, is still non-slip, and not unevenly worn (inwards or outwards) at the heel.
  • The heel is not damaged. When there is a vertical seam at the back of the heel, it should be perpendicular to the ground.
  • The insoles are in good condition. If not, replace them, provided that the other parts of the shoes are in good condition.
  • The fastening system (laces or Velcro) still works well enough to hold the foot in place. If the shoes are in good condition and only the Velcro fasteners are damaged, they can be replaced.
  • The shoes have been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, even if they are from a family member. You can use a textile spray disinfectant. This eliminates the fungi responsible for causing athlete’s foot, bacteria that cause foul smells, as well as viruses (e.g., plantar warts).
When do you change shoes?
According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, under age 3, a child’s feet grow on average by half a shoe size every two or three months. Once the child is 3 years old, they grow one shoe size per year. However, each child grows at their own pace. To know when your child needs new shoes, it’s best to check regularly if their toes rub against the tip of the shoes.

Choosing shoes for school

The same tips mentioned above apply when it comes to choosing shoes for a child about to start school. You must keep in mind that your child will wear these shoes all day to do a variety of activities. It’s preferable to choose shoes made with durable materials that provide proper foot support, i.e. with fasteners, laces, or Velcro.

Avoid fashion shoes such as ballet flats and Converse-style shoes. These shoes have flat soles, and it is best to choose shoes with a slightly thicker sole at the heel, as they may help avoid heel pain and tendinitis.

Choosing good summer sandals

Focus on proper foot support

In warm weather, children can be comfortable in sandals, provided they meet certain criteria. A good sandal has the following features:

  • A reinforced heel, i.e. the part of the sandal that wraps around the heel should be quite strong.
  • One ankle tie and at least one tie at the front of the foot.
  • A non-slip sole (e.g., rubber).

Hybrid shoes made of synthetic fabrics (e.g., Keen), which are halfway between sandals and sneakers, are a good choice of sandals. They allow the foot to breathe while providing good support thanks to a reinforced heel and a non-slip sole. Because the tip of these sandals is closed and often reinforced with rubber, this also protects your child’s toes.

What about flip flops and Crocs?

Flip flops and Crocs sandals should be avoided, as they do not hold the foot securely in place. Without heel or ankle support, your child will constantly have to grip the sandals with their toes to keep their feet stable.

In fact, sandals with no sling at the back of the ankle are not healthy for the feet. Wearing this type of sandal can cause discomfort, irritation, blisters, or other injuries to the feet, such as pain in the heel, toes, or ankles.

Therefore, flip flops and Crocs sandals should be worn as little as possible. They may be fine for a short walk to the beach or the pool, but once there, it’s better to walk barefoot.

When to consult a podiatrist?

Children are born with flat feet and their arches gradually form as their feet grow. Therefore, there is no need to see a podiatrist for flat feet before they reach the age of 3.

Once your child reaches the age of 3, it’s possible that their feet might still be flat without being a cause for concern. However, you should consult a podiatrist if your child has the following signs:

  • Frequently complains of leg pain.
  • Often stumbles.
  • Quickly gets tired when walking.
  • Regularly asks you to carry them or sit in the stroller.
  • Ankles and feet that turn inward.

Things to keep in mind

  • When your baby starts to walk, it is advisable to allow them to walk barefoot often.
  • Your baby’s first pair of shoes should be light and flexible. Boots are not required.
  • For a child over 2 years old, choose a comfortable shoe with a non-slip sole with a slightly raised heel.
  • In summertime, hybrid shoes halfway between sneakers and sandals allow the foot to breathe, while being supported and protected.
  • Flip flops and Crocs sandals should be avoided as much as possible.

 

Naître et grandir

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: October 2020

 

Photos: GettyImages/kindle_photography, Selektor, akova, popovaphoto, jinjo0222988, AlekseySagitov, Serhii Tsyhanok, and Techin24

 

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