How Do I Choose Shoes for My Child?

Children may require new shoes every 3-4 months. How often you replace their shoes depends on how active your child is and how fast their feet are growing.

Children's feet grow in spurts. Most early toddlers (under 16 months of age) grow more than one-half a foot size in 2 months. Toddlers from age 16-24 months grow an average of one-half a foot size every 3 months. Children 24-36 months old grow approximately one-half a foot size every 4 months, and children over 3 years of age experience increases of one-half a foot size every 4-6 months.

You should 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 length, width, and depth when fitting your child's shoe. Poorly fitting children's shoes can cause toe problems, ingrown toenails, hammertoes, blisters or calluses, and bunions.

  • If the shoe has a removable insert, take it out and have your child stand on it to give you a better sense of how much room there is. With your child's heel at the back of the insert, there should be about one-half inch of space between your child's toes and the front of the insert.
  • If the inserts are not removable, have your child put the shoe on and press down on the front of it. You should be able to fit the tip of your finger between your child's toes and the front of the shoe.
  • Examine the depth of the shoe to make sure the top of the shoe doesn't press on the toes or the toenails.
  • Look for shoes with rounded toe boxes to give the toes more room to move.


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. Frequently check your child's feet for redness or blisters, which may indicate they need larger or wider shoes. If you have concerns, make an appointment with a foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon.

The Construction

Shoes consist of four parts: the upper, the insole, the outer sole and the heel.

Upper Part

The upper part of the child's shoe can be made of leather, canvas, or the newer mesh materials. Since children's feet sweat heavily, the upper part of their shoes should be made of breathable materials, such as mesh or canvas. Avoid man-made materials, such as plastic.

Insole

Make sure the insole is made of absorbent material. You may want padded insoles. Most children do not need a special arch support. All toddlers younger than 16 months have flat feet and only fully develop an arch by 6-8 years old.

Outer Sole

The outer sole provides traction, cushioning, and flexibility to the shoe. Avoid very sticky and thick outer soles as they may cause stumbles and falls.

Heel

Toddlers do not need heels on their shoes. Flat outer soles make it easier to begin walking. Older children can wear shoes with heels, but they should not be too high (taller than one inch), as tall heels can cause the foot to slide forward and cramp the toes against the inside of the shoe.

The Appropriate Shoe

The Pre-Walking Shoe

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 provide a rigid support, and it's very important that the shoe be shaped like the child's foot. Your child can go barefoot in a protected environment such as indoors.

Toddler Shoes

Shoes for toddlers (age 9 months to 3 years) should allow the foot to breathe since their feet perspire heavily. Avoid synthetic materials that don't breathe. For children 9-18 months, choose a high-top shoe that will stay on the foot better than an oxford or a low-top athletic shoe. A leather or canvas tie shoe is more secure, will stay on the foot, and will fit little feet better. The sole of the shoe should be smooth, like the palm of your hand, to prevent falls. 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.

School-Age Children's Shoes

Style and shoe fit is important for school-age children. At this age, they can choose from a variety of options, including athletic shoes, sandals, hiking shoes, etc. Look for reasonably priced, flexible, well-ventilated shoes that allow plenty of room for growth. If you have a great deal of difficulty finding shoes that fit, or if your child develops calluses, sores, or other foot problems, consult your foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon.

The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) offers information on this site as an educational service. The content of FootCareMD, including text, images, and graphics, is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnoses or treatments. If you need medical advice, use the "Find a Surgeon" search to locate a foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon in your area.