Health Education

Guide to Children’s Shoes

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Most children learn to walk between 9–18 months. As your child begins to walk, you may have your first questions about what shoes he or she should wear. A growing child will need new shoes frequently and more questions will arise. Ask yourself the following questions when selecting your child's shoes:

  • How does the shoe fit?
  • How is the shoe made?
  • Is the type of shoe appropriate for your child's age?

The fit

Pay attention to the shoe's proper length, width and depth when fitting your child's shoe. Poorly fitting children's shoes can cause toe problems, ingrown toenails, hammer toes, calluses and bunions. Children's feet grow in spurts and they require new shoes every three to four months:

  • 9–16 months: ½ a foot size in two months
  • 16 to 24 months: ½ a foot size every three months
  • 24 to 36 months: ½ a foot size every four months
  • >3 years: ½ a foot size every four to six months

70% of children wear shoes with D and E widths. Most young boys wear E width and most young girls wear D width. A tie-fastened shoe can accommodate most widths. Look for shoes with rounded toe boxes to give the toes more room for movement.

How do I know it’s the right fit?

  • Turn the shoe upside down and match the sole to the bottom of your child’s foot. If you can see shoe sticking out on all edges the shoe has enough width and length.
  • Always try on both shoes.
  • Make sure your child is standing to ensure the toes are not jammed. “Thumb check” the toes to make sure the child has approximately one inch space at the toe end of the shoe. Remember, shoes should be comfortable from the start. If new shoes need to be "broken in," it means either they were not properly designed or not properly fitted for your child's foot.

The Make

The shoe is constructed of four parts: the upper part, the insole, the outer sole, and the heel.

  • The Upper Part: of the child’s shoe should be made of leather, canvas, or the newer mesh materials. Children’s feet perspire a lot and the upper part of their shoes should be made of breathable materials. Leather or canvas allows the foot to breathe. Avoid man-made materials such as plastic.
  • The Insole: should be made of absorbent material. Padded insoles are fine but most children do not need a special arch support. All toddlers younger than 16 months have flat feet and only fully develop and arch by the age of 6–8 years.
  • The Outer Sole: provides traction, cushioning, and flexibility to the shoe. Some very sticky and thick outer soles can make young children clumsy and cause falls. Flat outer soles make it easier to begin walking.
  • Heels: are not necessary for toddlers. Older children can wear shoes with heals but they should not be bigger than one inch as this can cause the foot to slide forward, cramping the toes against the shoe.


The Appropriate Shoe

  • Pre-Walking Shoe: Certain types of shoes are appropriate for your child's age. Babies and crawlers do not need shoes. They only need booties, warm wide socks to keep their feet warm, or pre-walking shoes that do not bind their feet. The shoe should be flexible rather than providing a rigid support, and it's very important that the shoe be shaped like the child's foot. The function of a shoe at this age is warmth and protection.
  • Toddler Shoes: Choose a high top shoe, which will stay on the foot better than an oxford or a low top tennis shoe. A leather or canvas tie shoe is more secure, will stay on the foot, and will fit fat little feet better. Choose a lightweight shoe, since children use a lot of energy walking at this age. Toddlers can go barefoot in a protected environment such as indoors. Toddlers should have flat heels on their shoes.
  • School-Age Children's Shoes: Style and shoe fit is important for school-age children. Their main function is shock absorption and protection. At this age, they can choose from a variety of options including athletic shoes, sandals, hiking shoes, etc. It is very important to wear the right shoes for the right activity to prevent injury; clogs or shoes with heels worn during sporting activities may lead to sprained ankles or fractures. Look for reasonably priced, flexible, well-ventilated shoes that allow plenty of room for growth. At this age, hand-me-downs are discouraged because the protective insole and outer sole will be worn down.

Children's Foot Problems During the first several years, your child's foot continues to take shape. At this time, problems such as flat foot or high arch may become noticeable, but unless painful no specific treatment is necessary. If severe, these problems may be symptoms of other, more serious conditions and your child should be evaluated by a health care provider.

Pediatric Appropriate Shoe Diagram Appropriate Shoe Diagram