"Flat feet are soooo maligned!"
People who have them often have an accompanying complex that something is "wrong" with them. In fact, for many years the Army wouldn't even take recruits "handicapped" with flat feet. Flatfoots of the world take heart—not only will the Army take you now, they have actually found that flat footed soldiers may suffer the fewest injuries due to an improved ability to absorb the impact of running(Archives of American Medicine, 1993, July, 21:64). In actuality, the topic of flat feet is a bit more complex: whether flat, average or high arches are good/bad has a LOT more to do with the stiffness and flexibility of your joints than the actual height of your arch. Improving overall muscle tone and flexibility of your feet for any type of arch is the best you can do to improve your balance, posture and avoid injury. We encourage you to try strengthening exercises for your feet to improve flexibility and overall foot health.
When it comes to toddlers, flat feet are usually not a concern in the first few years, but if you have concerns about your children's feet you should seek professional guidance. Nearly all toddlers are flat-footed and this is considered quite normal at this age (as folks who try shoes on little feet all day, we can personally attest to this). The arch on the inside of the foot is something that develops naturally during child growth as long as their feet develop in either barefoot or healthy footwear environments. Many modern podiatrists agree that the best shoes for children protect their feet from environmental hazards (nails, sharp objects, scorpions, etc.), yet remain as close to barefoot function as possible. This modern view is based on large-scale anthropological studies that find almost a complete absence of foot problems in cultures that are primarily barefoot. Kenyan runners—some of the best distance runners in the world today—commonly spend their childhood without shoes. Walking barefoot gives the foot a wider range of motion and reportedly a better base for toning and strengthening muscles and building balance than stiffer, molded shoes. For a great summary of healthy foot development research in children and shoe fitting tips for babies and kids, click here.