I can already hear all the mom’s asking, “What? How can that be? Baby and toddler shoes are everywhere... and they are just so cute!” Well, I hate say it, but toddler footwear is more fashion statement than functional tool.
Here are 4 things parents should know about early childhood footwear.
1. Bare feet are better.
Achieving gross motor (big movement) milestones during the first year of life is a complicated progression involving the muscular and nervous systems. You’ll often see your baby playing or “eating” their feet. These actions of curling, wiggling, bending, and spreading their toes will strengthen the small muscles of the feet. As they begin standing and walking around furniture, your toddler will benefit from stable footing created by having the whole foot touching safe ground.
2. Toddlers are flat-footed and that’s OK.
Many studies have been done to determine if supporting the midfoot (an arch support) during early foot development will speed up the development of the arch. The findings do not support the need for any footwear to develop a healthy or “normal” foot arch. In fact, flat feet are less common in societies that do not wear shoes in childhood.
3. It’s a slow process.
As a child’s nervous and muscular systems mature, the foot-strike and gait becomes more like that of an adult. During the childhood years, leg bones naturally remodel, strengthen, and align. As the bones of the leg and foot mature, the child’s “bow legged” appearance will begin to disappear. This slow process will naturally occur, usually by the age of 7 years, and is completely independent of footwear.
4. A shoe is for protection.
If your baby or toddler is going to be in a place where they could step on something very hot, cold, splintery, bumpy, or sharp... They need shoes! Choose shoes that are flexible and thin-soled. Leather-soled shoes are a good choice for children that are in the very early stages of learning to walk. A flexible, hard sole shoe will be needed by the time your toddler is running.
When shopping for toddler shoes, bend the shoe in half. The shoe should bend in the middle. If the shoe bends at the “ball” of the foot, then there is some arch support in the shoe. A toddler has to walk stiffly and unnaturally in a shoe with arch support, so look for a different shoe.
In short, don’t be mislead by the clever marketing of baby shoes. For the majority of toddlers, shoes should be used to simply protect their feet from the elements.