Experts in children’s feet offer their advice on first footwear
Martin Haines, Biomechanics Coach and Chartered Physiotherapist from Brytespark has been working with us to conduct pioneering research into how children move. He says: “The bones don’t actually form until the child is about 10 years old – and then they don’t stop growing until between 16 and 21 years old.”
Ill-fitting shoes can compromise the development of the foot and cause long-term damage – you may even be suffering as adults. But with all sorts of shoes on the market, how do we know the difference between them? And when do children really need to start wearing them?
Here are some tips from podiatrist Karen Randell and chartered physiotherapist and biomechanics coach Martin Haines, whose team works with Start-Rite as research partners to understand how children move.
DO let children go barefoot as much as possible.
When toddlers are beginning to explore in familiar territory – in your home or garden – it’s great to let them be barefooted, says Karen: “That’s how they learn about the world around them and about balance and position through all the different nerve endings in their feet.”
DO protect their feet.
If children are in unfamiliar territory – either in or outdoors – or they are checking out different terrains, their feet will need protection. Children who haven’t started walking won’t need a formed shoe, but they may need either loose-fitting socks or pre-walker shoes, says Karen: “Pre-walkers need to be soft, flexible and roomy at the forefoot so you are not disabling natural development or compressing the foot. They need to be completely flat with some kind of fastening and a little bit of grip to assist with movement. They should also be a natural, breathable material.”
DO introduce first shoes when the time is right.
“Once they are running and moving faster, along comes jumping and that’s when it’s really important for first shoes,” says Karen. “From a child’s point of view, after baby shoes, these are going to feel totally different. They will have a much firmer base and children are going to realise they can go further faster without having any discomfort from uneven terrain.”
DO buy good quality shoes
Shoes that are too wide or narrow can do as much harm as shoes that are too short or long. Martin says: “Cheaper shoes are not necessarily available in different width fittings and don’t have small enough increments in terms of size.”
Find out more about what to look for in a shoe in our top tips for choosing children’s shoes article.
DO get first shoes fitted.
“It’s an unusual feeling to have something wrapped around your foot, so it’s important the fit is just right,” says Karen. “When possible, children would see a trained fitter, who will fit them into a shoe that is allowing for growth. Choose a reputable brand.”
DO make sure your child is happy in their first shoes.
“If a child is in shoes that allow them to go out and explore and get around more, they’re not going to want to take them off – so during that first week if they are trying to take them off all the time or seem irritable and unhappy, there’s something wrong,” says Karen. “Look at the foot to see if there are any areas of redness or rub. Keep a close watch on your child’s gait. Has it changed? Is it more erratic? Are they tripping more often? Are they bumping into things?”
DO have regular refits.
When your child is in first shoes, start by having their feet checked every six to eight weeks, then every two to three months. The growth usually slows down so, once they are around school age, checks could be every three to four months.
“Sometimes life is busy and refits can seem to come around quickly!” warns Karen, so it’s worth setting a calendar reminder. Also, no two children’s feet are the same so there’s no harm in having feet checked more regularly – children usually enjoy the experience and if they haven’t gone up in size, you don’t have to buy.
DON’T drop the habit.
“Studies have shown that 40 percent of parents start off using a trained fitter but by age 11, this has dropped to 15 percent,” says Karen, but their feet are still developing and growing.
There are other considerations too, says Martin: “When a child gets to secondary school, they tend to be sitting in class more, so they can get stiffness down the back of the legs. At this time they also have growth spurts, which can exaggerate that stiffness. A tight calf can compromise how the foot moves, but a small heel raise compared to the forefront can take the tension off.”
Find out more about older children's feet in our helping your child develop article.
All the facts you need to know about children’s feet
Other articles and videos in our First steps forward section tell you more about the amazing way children’s feet develop – and how you can help look after them.
How different children got off the starting blocks.
Find out more