Once those precious little baby feet start taking their first steps, you’ve officially got a toddler! After catching their first steps on video, it’s time to find them a good pair of shoes. With so many different options out there, it can be hard to know which shoes will best support your toddler’s foot development. As a pediatric physical therapist, I recommend a few key features that help promote healthy feet and an efficient walking pattern. Barefoot is best when in the house, but when you’re taking your toddler out and about, these are the things you should look for in toddler shoes:
Toddlers have flexible feet. They are learning how to coordinate their foot muscles with every step they take. That’s why finding a shoe with a flexible sole is absolutely crucial. Many people are fans of baby moccasins for this reason. I personally have no problem with them (I mean, they’re pretty darn cute), but some children need shoes that are a little more supportive. I usually recommend a flexible sneaker. With any shoe, you should be able to easily bend the sole at the ball of the foot. Toddlers don’t weigh very much, so it should give without having to use a lot of force.
Sturdy Heel Cup
Most shoes have a built-in “cup” that holds the heel in place and prevents the shoe from slipping off. Since toddlers have such flexible feet, their ankles tend to “roll” inward easily. Shoes that have a sturdy heel cup provide support on the uneven terrain your toddler will encounter outdoors. The heel cup also ensures that your toddler’s foot is in good alignment, allowing them to use their muscles in their most optimal position. Make sure that your toddler also has plenty of opportunities to walk barefoot on uneven terrain like grass or sand. Varied experiences are important for developing healthy, strong feet.
Babies and Toddlers naturally have flat feet. Children’s arches are not fully developed until around 6 years old. Still, when buying shoes for your toddler, you’ll want to make sure they have a little bit of arch support. This will help their feet develop in the best alignment possible, and prevent any unhealthy compensations like putting too much pressure on the inside of their feet.
Wide Toe Box
Toddler toes need lots of space to spread out and move. Look for shoes that are just as wide (or wider) at the toe than they are at the heel. I like to place the bottom of the shoe up against my child’s bare foot to see if it will fit their foot in a relaxed position. If you see their little toes peeking out, they’re too narrow! Also, make sure to leave one finger’s width of space between the tips of their toes and the end of the shoe; I’m sure you already know that they grow like weeds!
When it comes to shoe shopping for toddlers, features are far more important than brand names. It may take a few tries to find the right fit, but it will be worth the effort. Starting off with proper footwear will set them up to develop healthy walking mechanics and help prevent foot or leg pain as they grow.