Back to School Shoes! Give Your Child a Healthy Start

Those lazy, barefoot summer days are coming to an end—time to shop for those back-to-school shoes. No doubt your kids feet have grown quite a bit (again), but getting a larger shoe should be just part of your checklist. Leading children’s podiatrists agree that choosing the proper footwear for your kids is a decision that will impact the lifelong health of your child. Good footwear not only is long enough, but allows your children’s toes to spread and foot to form naturally. Shoes that “mold” your child’s foot to a contoured foot bed with arches can actually damage your child’s foot, causing problems with arch pain or weak ankles that crop up in adulthood when we reach our full body weight.

Our feet are wonderfully complex structures with 19 bones and 126 muscles and ligaments. When born, a child’s foot is quite malleable and the bones do not fully ossify until age 9. Foot bones actually function more like cartilage for those first 9 years. An extreme example of how moldable our feet are at young ages is the now-defunct tradition of Chinese foot binding. Because tiny feet were considered beautiful, young girls’ feet were essentially folded in half by tight bindings, deforming and often crippling them. Putting your child’s feet in stiff, contoured shoes is a much less severe, but nonetheless similar process.

The best thing that can be done for the healthy development of feet is to maximize the time your children spend barefoot. All podiatrists agree this is the best for developing strong, athletic feet and improving your sense of balance and posture. (This is true for adults, as well!) The second best is to purchase shoes that allow feet to move freely and breathe naturally.

Consider these tips when shopping:

  • Soft, flexible soles that bend easily in the middle when bending the toe towards the heel. Many soles only bend in the toe -- make sure they bend where the foot arches.
  • Choose soft soles that mold to your child’s foot rather than soles that force your child’s foot to mold to the shoe. Flat soles with no arch supports are best to simulate barefoot conditions. The lighter, the better!
  • Ample room for toes. True children’s shoes are much fatter in the toes than adult shoes as their feet don’t narrow out until adolescence. Shoes should be loose around the toes.
  • Soft, flexible uppers that breathe. Uppers made of natural, absorbing cloth or leather are preferable to synthetic material.
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