In general, you don’t need shoes for a child who is not yet walking steadily – tempting though some of those super cute shoes can be! Putting hard-soled shoes on a baby learning to walk can be a hindrance to their normal development. In New Zealand, we don’t have the luxury of year-round indoor warmth in a lot of homes – so if warmth is the concern, choose a very flexible, soft-soled option for a baby or toddler who doesn’t yet walk comfortably.
Once your child is steady on their feet, they’re going to want to practice their newfound skills. To keep them safe while out and about, you will need to put them in pair of shoes. When you’re at home you might want to consider allowing them to wander around shoeless, to assist them in motor skill development and to strengthen their arches.
From the early stable walking stage through to approximately age six, children are still developing the mechanics of their feet, and putting them in a solid shoe that fits well is beneficial. Check the fit of their shoes often (at least every month or two) to see whether they are still an appropriate choice for running about in.
The speed of a child’s growth can make choosing the best option of shoe complex. You want to allow enough room for growth (you will still likely need to budget for at least two sizes of shoe per year for a younger child) while ensuring the shoe is firm enough to provide adequate support. This can be hard to guage so you may need to enlist the knowledge of a store specialising in children’s shoes. This sort of store should be able to measure your child’s foot to find out what size of shoe is best for them.
With this information, it is not safe to simply select a pair in that size and assume they will suit. Some brands of shoes fit a wider foot, others a narrower foot. Arch support, sole, type of fastening and fabric all play a part in the fit of the shoe. It is best to select a few different brands and have your child walk for a minute or two in each.
Between trying on types of shoe, pull off the sock and check for any signs of rubbing – this can indicate the fit wasn’t quite right. Another brand may well offer a better fit for your child
Allowing for a centremetre or two at the top of the shoe (above the big toe) is wise – but not so much space that tripping becomes a possibility. Keep an eye on this gap over the next few months, and replace the shoes before the toes are touching the top of the shoe – you may get longer out of a leather shoe as they will accomodate a small amount of stretching
Press down on the top of the shoe when it is well fastened. Is there any gap between the top of the shoe and your child’s foot? This probably indicates the shoe is too loose
Check the shoe around your child’s ankles and around the heel. Does it appear supportive? Is there any indication of rubbing? Is there a gap when the shoe is well fastened? Avoid thinking ‘she’ll grow into them’ – shoes for children need to fit well from the minute they start wearing them
Bend the sole back and forward a couple of times. It should not be too stiff, but should allow for reasonable movement and flexibility. Does there look to be enough traction provided by the sole of the shoe to prevent slips and falls?
Press down on the areas of the shoe that are close to a toe. Can the child still wiggle their toes in the shoe? Is the shoe clearly wide enough to easily accomodate your child’s foot? Are their any obvious areas of discomfort?