Toddler Shoes: 4 Things to Look for


Image: a little boy walks in front of his mother towards the camera in an apple orchard. He is smiling, carrying a bucket, and wearing a jacket, sweatpants, and Adidas sneakers. (Toddler Shoes: What to Look for Brittany Aquart Contributor Miami Mom Collective)

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:

Image: An example of a toddler shoe with a flexible sole. (Toddler Shoes: 4 Things to Look for Brittany Aquart Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Flexible Sole: look for a shoe that easily bends at the ball of the foot.

Flexible Sole

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.

Image: The back of a toddler shoe (Toddler Shoes: 4 Things to Look for Brittany Aquart Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Sturdy Heel Cup: squeeze the sides of the shoe’s heel cup together. Look for shoes that don’t collapse when you pinch the heel.

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. 

Image: Brittany checking the sole of a shoe (Brittany Aquart Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Arch Support: look for shoes that are slightly raised (not flat) at the inner part of the sole to aid in arch development.

Arch Support

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. 

Image: A toddler sneaker with a wide toe box (Brittany Aquart Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Wide Toe Box: look for shoes that are just as wide (or wider) at the toes than they are at the heel.

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. 

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Brittany Aquart
Brittany is a pediatric physical therapist and owner of Lemon City Therapy. She has worked as a physical therapist in a variety of settings, from the NICU to outpatient clinics to in-home therapy. She and her high school sweetheart-turned-husband, Andrew, are both Miami natives and proud UM alumni. They currently live in Little Haiti with their two young boys. Brittany loves all things culture, art, music, and food-related, and is always down for a good cup of coffee. Pre-pandemic days, there was nothing she loved more than going to a new restaurant with good friends, but backyard hangs are a satisfying trade-off. At home, you can catch her experimenting with gluten-free recipes in the kitchen, or taking a walk to the park down the street with her boys. Connect with Brittany @lemoncitytherapy on Instagram and Facebook.