Shoe shopping for kids: A parent's guide to a year-round task

What is it about children's feet that make them seem like the fastest-growing part of their bodies? With back-to-school shopping behind you for another year, you might hope you can stop spending on shoes—at least until flip-flop season arrives with spring. But kids’ feet do grow year round, right along with the rest of them. In fact, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), a child’s shoe and sock sizes may change every few months. Comfortable, sturdy shoes are among the most important articles of clothing you’ll buy for your child at any time of year. Ill-fitting shoes can cause problems that range from minor blisters and discomfort to serious injuries and impaired development.

“A pair of well-made shoes can keep children safe from foot problems such as sprains and strains, both in class and on the playground,” says Steven Gordon, DPM, a podiatrist at Reston, Manassas, and Leesburg Foot and Ankle Centers and APMA member. “Unless your child complains of discomfort, you may not realize he or she needs new shoes. Parents need to be vigilant to ensure kids are wearing shoes that fit properly and provide the stability and support kids need.”

Conduct the time-honored toe test—using your thumb or forefinger to determine where the child’s big toe is inside the shoe—once a month. Inspect shoes regularly for signs of wear that could compromise their stability. When it’s time to buy children’s shoes, APMA has some guidelines for parents.

“Checking for three different aspects of a shoe’s design makes it easy for parents to distinguish which models are foot-friendly,” Dr. Gordon says.

APMA recommends parents perform a simple, three-step inspection on new shoes before buying:

  1. Look for a stiff heel. The heel counter should not collapse when pressed from both sides.
  2. Ensure the shoe bends at the toes, but nowhere else.
  3. Finally, make sure the shoe does not twist across the middle.

In addition, keep these tips in mind to help ensure kids are wearing comfortable shoes and practicing good foot health:

  • Take children with you when you buy their shoes and shop at the end of the day when feet are at their biggest. Every shoe fits differently, and allowing a child to have a say in the shoe-shopping process can help promote healthy foot care habits down the road.
  • Always buy for the larger foot. Feet are rarely the exact same size, so buy a shoe that fits the slightly larger foot.
  • Avoid shoes that require a “break-in” period to feel comfortable. Shoes should be comfortable immediately. Be sure your child tries on the shoes wearing whatever type of socks or tights he or she will use with them.
  • Never hand down footwear. Just because a shoe fits one child comfortably doesn’t mean it will fit another in the same way. Also, sharing shoes can spread athlete’s foot and nail fungus.
  • Whenever possible, purchase shoes at a shoe store staffed by well-trained shoe fitters. An experienced salesperson can help relieve worries over getting the proper fit.

If your child’s shoes show uneven wear or wear out on the heels quickly, it could indicate a problem that should be examined by a podiatrist. You can see a list of podiatrist-recommended children’s footwear by visiting www.apma.org/seal and selecting “Find Products by Type” then “Footwear, Children’s.”

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