Here are the ins and outs of toddler shoes

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Most children begin walking between the ages of 8-18 months of age. They begin with a flat-footed walk and as they walk more, their foot bone structure and the ligaments in their feet strengthen. Many parents worry over when it is the appropriate time for their children to begin wearing shoes. The debate is strong in the academic and medical communities as to when the best time for babies and toddlers to begin wearing shoes. There’s a strong debate as well arguing for the importance of barefootedness in young children.

So which is it? When is the best time to buy your baby’s first pair of shoes? How important is the wearing of shoes to your baby or toddler’s developing feet? Here at Babienet, we ask these questions as well and thought you, as parents, may want more information so that you can decide for yourself when the timing is right for shoes.

This article will explore:

  • Baby and toddler foot development
  • The use of shoes for babies and toddlers
  • When your baby or toddler should begin wearing shoes
  • Some good choices for your baby’s first shoes

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Baby and toddler foot development

Child foot development

Babies are born with extra fatty padding where the arches will be in their feet. Their feet are also very soft and flexible. If their feet are very curved or bent due to compression in the womb, your child’s doctor may prescribe the use of a foot bar to help straighten out their feet. My oldest son wore one for several weeks after his birth.

Here is some information about the foot-bracing method of straightening baby’s feet.

As your toddler begins walking, the bones, muscles, and ligaments of their feet strengthen. By the time your child is two, you should begin seeing what foot shape they are developing, which is often genetically similar to the parents or other family members. There are three main foot types:

  • Tapered – The biggest toe is the longest of all toes
  • Rounded – The second or third toe is longer than the first
  • Square – All toes are roughly the same length

The arch of the foot begins developing around age 2-3 and should be well-developed by age 6-7.

How do you know if your child’s feet are developing properly?

You can usually spot foot-related issues when your child begins walking. If your child is having noticeable problems in their gait (such as excessive toe-walking, or walking on the edges of their feet, feet that turn inward or feet that turn outward, feet that do not seem to be developing equally), see their pediatrician to have their feet examined. It is a good idea to ask about their feet as well in their regular check-ups.

Some indicators of foot developmental issues:

  • abnormally shaped toes
  • ingrown toenails (that persist or are painful)
  • bunions or other deformities
  • stiffness of the foot
  • limping
  • the child complains of pain while walking, or favors one leg over another when walking
  • severe in-toeing or out-toeing
  • flat feet that cause pain or limit function
  • a sudden change in the way your child walks
  • if your child isn’t walking at all by two years of age.

Here are some foot-related milestones that offer a bit of a gauge for your child’s proper foot development:

2-3 years

  • walk smoothly and begin to run
  • walk up and down stairs without assistance
  • walk on tip toes
  • climb onto/down from furniture and play with equipment without assistance

4-5 years

  • walk and run confidently around obstacles with sudden stops and changes of direction
  • walk backwards toe to heel
  • jump with two feet together over an object and land with feet together
  • balance on one foot and hop 3-4 times
  • perform skipping motion, albeit uneven after demonstration
  • climb up and down stairs using one step at a time

6 years

  • run lightly on toes
  • walk with confidence balancing on a beam/log
  • hop over a distance of approx. 2m
  • begin skipping with a skipping rope

The use of shoes for babies and toddlers

The argument between shoe-wearing for small children vs being barefoot has many factors. We’ll explain some of the benefits and factors for both and provide you with further resources. When you are reading resources on shoe-wearing, pay attention to the source of the information and whether or not they are a shoe sales company with an agenda.

Many experts believe that wearing shoes at too young an age will present more harm than good.

Tracy Byrne, a pediatric podiatrist believes that “wearing shoes at too young an age can hamper a child’s walking and cerebral development. ‘Toddlers keep their heads up more when they are walking barefoot,’ she says. ‘The feedback they get from the ground means there is less need to look down, which is what puts them off balance and causes them to fall down.’ Walking barefoot, she continues, develops the muscles and ligaments of the foot, increases the strength of the foot’s arch, improves proprioception (our awareness of where we are in relation to the space around us) and contributes to good posture.”–Why barefoot is best for children | Life and style

“After they start walking, you want them either barefoot or in the most flexible shoe possible so their muscles can develop properly,” said Dr. Jane Andersen, a podiatrist in Chapel Hill, N.C., and past president of the American Association for Women Podiatrists. “Flexibility is the most important issue as they are developing their arch.”–When should your child start wearing shoes?

We, as a culture, impart our own cultural beliefs and stigmas with shoe-wearing without taking into consideration (necessarily) the foot-fare of children. We have interjected stigma into the discussion by assuming shoe-wearing to be a product of affluence or an indicator of good parenting. Heads turn when you arrive to the grocery store with unshod children in tow. However, the argument for being barefoot, while this used to me more of a cultural norm, is once again gaining traction as people seek to adopt a more natural approach to foot care for their children.

Many parents opt for their children to go without shoes at home and while playing in their own yard but choose to put shoes on them for outings, which is the strategy that worked well for my family.

Here is a printable from the American Pediatric Medical Association on footwear for children.
Here is a great article on why barefoot is best for small children.

Benefits of barefoot

  • A child learning to walk receives important sensory information from the soles of their feet touching the ground. —Children’s feet and shoes
  • A child learning to walk develops stronger feet as they walk. The flexibility allowed by being barefoot helps this development.
  • Research published in podiatry journal The Foot in 2007 suggests that structural and functional changes can result from the foot having to conform to the shape and constriction of a shoe, rather than being allowed to develop naturally. And the younger the foot, the greater the potential for damage.–Why barefoot is best for children | Life and style
  • Helps muscles develop.
  • Helps strong bones and ligaments to develop.
  • Helps develop strong ankles.
  • Is comfortable and convenient.
  • Toughens the soles of the feet.
  • Helps your children to experience the outdoors with a more “grounding” experience. Many parents like the healthy and personal interaction with the environment that being barefoot affords their children. (A friend of mine and her daughters actually are big fans of going on nature hikes while barefoot.)

Benefits of shoes for baby / toddler

  • Shoes protect your child’s feet from the elements and weather (heat and cold, rain)
  • Shoes protect your child’s feet from rough surfaces, unclean surfaces in public places, or from dangerous things such as glass in a parking lot. They offer protection for your child’s feet from the ground which can be a variety of surfaces and temperatures.
  • Shoes protect from foot injury or stumping of toes.
  • Is a requirement of many businesses and social activities.
  • Looks nice for “dressing up” for social occasions.
  • Some shoes are corrective in their design and can be recommended by physicians or podiatrists.

When your baby or toddler should begin wearing shoes

When your child first begins walking, they will be having more contact with the ground whenever you are away from your home and you are more likely to want them to be wearing shoes for protection. It is important, as little feet are constantly growing and changing shape, to have them professionally fitted for shoes and to check shoe fit often. Even a matter of a few short months and they could out-grow their shoes.

Babies and young toddlers should wear soft-soled shoes at first to offer the foot protection they need, while still allowing them to feel the ground as they walk. Here are some popular brands of soft-soled shoes:

  • Robeez
  • pediped
  • Stride Rite Prewalkers
  • Umi
  • Preschoolians Crawlers
  • New Balance
  • Lacoste
  • Jack & Lily Soft Leather Baby Shoes
  • IsaBooties Soft-Soled Shoes
  • Vans
  • Merrell
  • Nina Kids

Some good choices for your baby’s first shoes

There are different shoe styles to choose from for your baby or toddler and you will certainly want to consider lifestyle, purpose, and budget in choosing shoes.

For boys there are moccasins, boots (ideal for cold weather or hiking), walking or running sneakers (available with Velcro, laces or snaps options), and slip-on shoes (for pre-walkers). For girls there are these options as well but also booties, Mary Janes, and sandals with ankle straps.

Every child’s feet grow at varying paces and sizing can vary by brand but a general sizing guide will follow this basic form:

  • 0 to 3-months-old baby approximately size 1 shoe.
  • 3 to 6-months-old baby approximately size 2 shoe.
  • 6 to 9 months of age approximately 2.5 or 3 shoes.
  • 9 to 12-months-old toddler approximately 3.5 or 4 shoes.
  • 12 to an 18 month child approximately 4.5 or 5 shoes.
  • 18 to 24 months may require approximately size 5.5 or 6 shoes.

You’ll want to have your child’s feet measured and fitted for shoes which can be done at most shoe stores. Have this process repeated any time your child seems uncomfortable in their shoes (which my be suspected if they suddenly refuse to put them on!) or if their shoos seem ill-fitting. Children’s feet can grow rapidly so you may need to check every few months for correct shoe sizing or more frequently if they seem to be hitting a period of quick growth.

Here are a few brand and style recommendations:

Barefoot shoes

Barefoot shoes are the best of both worlds, receiving good reviews from foot-care professionals for offering the flexibility and feel of being barefoot while also protecting the soles of your child’s feet. They offer comfort and ease and come in a variety of popular brands.

7 Best Barefoot Shoes for Kids (Great for Exploring the Outdoors) offers this advice for choosing the best barefoot shoes for your small children:

1 Wide Toe Box – Look for shoes that fit the natural shape of the foot, including the toes. There should be enough room for all of those little toes to wiggle.

2 Thin, Flexible Soles – Soles should provide protection, but still allow for a sensory connection to the ground beneath and easy movement.

3 Zero-drop Platform – A zero-drop platform means a flat sole, just like our feet. Many shoes have a raised heel, which can cause strain on our body from the unnatural position and make injury more likely.

Other Shoes

For babies and first time walkers the Momo Baby company has Momo Baby Girls First Walker Toddler Leah Sneaker Shoes for girls and the Momo Baby Boys First Walker Toddler Hunter Leather Sneaker Shoes for boys. Both have handy Velcro closures that make it easy to manage and prevent shoe-lace tripping or choking dangers for babies.

Stride Rite is long-known in the shoe industry for providing high-quality shoes for every stage of your child’s development. The Soft Motion Amalie, Soft Motion Kellen, Soft Motion Adrian, Soft Motion Sophie, the Tulip, and Elijah designs are good options at this age.

The Merrell Kids’ Bare Steps H2o Sneaker comes in a variety of colors and is a good flexible sneaker-style shoe for your active little ones.

A word on Cowboy Boots

Many kids go through a phase of loving cowboy boots. My youngest brother had a pair he refused to take off. My daughter didn’t get into them until later but we literally had to cut them off of her once when she shoved a pair of well-loved but way-too-small boots on her feet and got the lining stuck on her heels. (Tip–throw away those well-loved but DONE shoes!)

Lucie’s List recommends holding off on the cowboy boots for a while. Stating that “the same goes for the leopard-skin pointy or hipster motorcycle boots. Your shoe fetish should stay in your own closet (for now anyway). Toddler shoes are there to support and stabilize new walkers. Barefoot is best, but when outdoors think function over fashion.” We think that is a good reminder when it comes to children’s shoes, especially in that developmental stage when toddler feet are still developing and forming to support the new business of walking.

Hopefully you have found this guide to be helpful and informative. If you have great shoe recommendations we’d love to hear them. Leave us a comment and join our Babienet community of parents!

This article is brought to you by the blogging contributors at Babienet Parenting Community, a community of caring parents just like you! We welcome you to share your journey with us.


Children’s feet and shoes

When Should Babies Start Wearing Shoes and What Type?

Why barefoot is best for children | Life and style

When Should a Toddler Wear Shoes?

Is it true that babies need to wear shoes sometimes so their feet develop normally?

When Should Your Baby Start Wearing Shoes?

Baby Shoes Guide – Best Baby Shoes 2020

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Christina M. Ward,

Babienet blog contributor

Mother and grandmother

Should My Toddler Be Wearing Shoes? Is a helpful guide for parents about when babies and toddlers should wear shoes, how baby and toddler feet develop,  how to choose toddler shoes, and the benefits of being barefoo