Shoes for Children
Choosing good shoes for your children can be hard -- and not just
because of the variety of cartoon characters that decorate kids'
shoes. The design of the shoe itself can make a big difference
to how your child's feet develop, and choosing the right shoe
can make a difference in later life as far as foot problems are
The foot develops best in people who spend their entire lives
walking barefoot. There are six advantages to walking barefoot:
- The forefoot (the front part of the foot) becomes more
mobile and flexible.
- The plantar skin (the skin on the soles of the feet)
becomes thicker and more resistant to minor cuts (although
it won't protect against sharp objects, which is one
reason people need to wear shoes in developed countries)
- The creases in the plantar skin, and the creases on the
dorsum (top) of the feet, become deeper and more
pronounced, which also improves foot flexibility.
- The phalanges (the bones in the toes) spread out more and
become better aligned, which helps your balance.
- The arches develop as far as they need to for your height
and weight. (There is no single good height for foot
arches; the proper height depends on your body build.)
- People who always walk barefoot tend not to have
corns, calluses, bunions, and fungal infections like
athlete's foot, all of which are aggravated by the wrong
kind of shoe.
The main reason why people wear shoes in developed countries
is to protect the feet from hazards: these include both sharp
objects (nails, for example) and the surfaces we walk on (there
is no concrete in the wilderness), as well as objects that may
fall on or hit our feet. (As another example, no one in their
right mind works in a hospital barefoot.) The style issue is,
or should be, secondary, but many modern shoes look like they
are designed to create foot problems. In particular, shoes that
raise the heel compromise gait and may hurt the ankle, and
you are much more likely to develop corns and bunions with
pointed-toe shoes. Shoes such as
(which, I admit, are just about the only shoes I wear at work)
may look clunky to some people, but they are shaped much more
like the foot than most "stylish" shoes -- and they do come in
When shopping for children's shoes, keep these things in mind:
- The shoe upper material needs to be porous to allow air to
circulate. This prevents excessive moisture from
accumulating, which would make it easier for both fungi
and bacteria to grow. Canvas or soft leather, or
perforated leather, are good materials for uppers; plastic
is a bad material, unless it is thoroughly-perforated
- The heel should not be elevated (see above). The
only reason for elevating a heel is in people who have
one leg shorter than the other: in these people the shoe
on the short-leg foot needs to raise the foot so that the
wearer effectively has two equal-length legs. Otherwise,
high-heeled shoes are A Bad Idea.
- The front part of the shoe should be wider than the heel.
This matches the natural shape of the foot and allows the
toes to spread out. As I mentioned above, pointed-toe
shoes are also A Bad Idea (and pointed-toe, high-heeled
shoes are An Even Worse Idea).
- There should be from 1/2 to 1-1/2 centimeters (about 1/4
to 3/4 inch) of space between the end of the toes and the
end of the inside of the shoe. (A good measure of toe
room is Mom's thumb: there should be one Mom's-thumb-width
of room at the front of the shoe.)
- There should be some support behind the heel. You don't
normally have heel support when you walk barefoot, but it
does come in handy when wearing shoes.
- The sole should be flexible to allow the foot to flex.
- The shoe should be lightweight. This lessens the load on
the foot as well as the leg and the rest of the wearer.
- The sole of the shoe should be textured or patterned to
give the wearer some traction on slippery surfaces.
My thanks to Kalli Doyle, M.D., Department of Pediatrics,
William Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Michigan, for providing much of the
source material for this page. For those of you interested in more
information, a good reference on children's shoes is "Shoes for Children:
A Review" by Lynn T. Staheli (Pediatrics, vol. 88, pp. 371-375, 1991.)
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PLEASE NOTE: As with all of this Web site, I try to give
general answers to common questions my patients and their parents ask me
in my (real) office. If you have specific questions about your
child you must ask your child's regular doctor. No doctor can give
completely accurate advice about a particular child without knowing and
examining that child. I will be happy to try and answer
about children's health, but unless your child is a regular patient of
mine I cannot give you specific advice.
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Copyright © 1998, 2006, 2007
Vinay N. Reddy, M.D. All rights reserved.
Written 04/08/98; last revised 05/07/07