When do babies, toddlers and children need shoes?

A very common, and valid, concern of parents (especially first time parents) with young children from birth through 5 years of age is determining when their children actually need shoes.

Although seemingly confusing at first, the answer is actually relatively straightforward. All that is needed is  a little information on how the feet of their little ones develop, what type of shoes will support this development, and when the correct type of shoes is needed or if a change of size is required.

How Children's Feet Grow

The first thing that that you need to understand is how and at what rate your children’s feet grow. Those beautiful, chubby little feet on your newborn may look like Mini-Me versions of your adult feet. However, they are actually quite different on the inside.

Your baby’s feet are very soft and flexible, especially during his / her first year. Their feet are protected with extra fat pads on the bottom because the bones in his / her feet have not yet hardened into their final shape. This bone formation process is called ossification, and it normally is not complete until your little one is a young adult, around 18 years of age. 

Types of Supportive Shoes

The next thing then that you will need to understand is the types of supportive shoes which are available and what would best suit their child.

Shoes for Babies

Podiatrists and paediatricians recommend that you let your baby walk barefoot when he / she is learning to walk. This lets him / her gain a sense of balance, confidence, and lets his / her feet continue to develop arches and ankle strength without restriction.

Your baby can wear socks or soft soled shoes for protection against heat and cold, when outdoors, or when walking on rough surfaces. Ideally, these first pair of shoes should be flexible with soft, breathable material on top and soft, bendable soles. The shoes should fit like a second skin on his / her feet, and they should not be tight or restrictive. The shoes need to have enough space in the front so that your little one’s toes have room to move.

Shoes for Toddlers

Once your toddler has been walking on his / her own for several weeks, it is time to get him / her more supportive shoes. Toddler shoes should have sturdy, non-slip bottoms and soft tops, with adjustable buckles, straps, or laces to prevent too much foot movement inside the shoes.

Toddler shoes will help your child keep his / her balance and control his / her footsteps. Like the baby shoes, the toddler shoes need to have plenty of room in the front so that his / her toes can move freely.

Shoes for Children

As your child engages in more indoor and outdoor activities, he / she will need shoes with stiffer soles to withstand all of the impacts that his / her feet will receive when running, jumping, climbing, and playing on hard surfaces. Soft, breathable leather or suede upper tops with adjustable buckles, straps, laces, or Velcro will give your child a comfortable fit that will not interfere with normal foot development. Breathable materials help to prevent foot sweating and chafing.

The soles of shoes for children need to be thicker and stronger than toddler shoes. Non-slip rubber or leather soles with a solid heel will absorb impacts from hard surfaces and protect the bottom of your child’s feet. 

When Shoes are Needed

Armed with the knowledge gained from the previous section, you are now ready to learn about when your little one really needs that pair of shoes.

Babies (Ages 6 to 12 Months):

Oxford Baby and Children's ShoesUntil your little one is walking on his / her own, there is no serious need for shoes. However, if you want his / her feet to be covered when going outside or to keep his / her feet protected from hot or cold temperatures during this pre-walking phase, use socks or soft, flexible baby shoes. 

Toddlers (Ages 12 to 30 months):

When your child is walking without holding onto you, the furniture, or other objects, it is time for toddler shoes. Toddler shoes are soft and flexible with non-slip bottoms, and they will protect your toddler’s feet from stubbed toes, from hard surfaces, and from getting splinters. 

Children (Ages 30 to 60 months):

This is a wonderful time in the life of your young child when he / she is learning new skills and new activities. You might think that he /she is becoming a daredevil with all of his / her increased energy and enthusiasm for trying new adventures. In fact, his / her new found curiosity and desire to test his / her capabilities may be the result of stronger leg muscles and ligaments that enable him / her to do more physically challenging activities.

This is the time for stronger, more supportive children’s shoes. The upper part of children’s shoe needs to be flexible with buckles, straps, laces, or Velcro to ensure that the shoes stay on your child’s feet. The bottom soles need to be sturdier than his / her toddler shoes. Good quality non-slip rubber or leather bottom soles are ideal for active children. 

    When to Change Shoes

    Last but not least, a parent needs to know when to go up in shoe size. Children, especially very young ones sometimes do not realise that their shoes are too small and almost always don’t know how to tell an adult. Instead, this manifest itself in the form of tantrums, irritability and (hopefully) the refusal to wear shoes which are too small or uncomfortable.

    According to the Institute for Preventive Foot Health, your child’s feet will grow quickly and often from birth through to age 5. These growth increases will directly affect the shoe size that your child will need. In general, your baby’s foot growth will increase by half a shoe size at regular intervals.

    Because your child’s feet will grow quickly during his / her first few years, it is important to replace the shoes at regular intervals. Be sure to check the fit of your child’s shoes every few weeks. When his / her toes are touching the front end of the shoes, it is time to get the next larger size shoes. 

     The table below lists some estimated durations between shoe size changes according to a child’s age groups.

    Age Range Estimated Interval
     0 to 15 months Every two months 
    15 to 24 months Every two to three months 
    24 to 36 months Every three to four months 
    36 to 60 months Every four months 

    As your child grows, he / she will be wearing his / her shoes for long periods of time. Podiatrists recommend that children have at least two pair of shoes so that the shoes can be alternated every day. This recommendation is to prevent the development of unpleasant foot odours caused by bacteria and foot chafing. Shoes made from natural materials such as leather tend to breathe better than synthetic materials, helping reduce the occurrence of such issues.

    A good shoe collection would be to have two pairs of high quality every day, outdoor shoes that can be alternated every day, and to have one pair of indoor, special event shoes. Of course, there is nothing wrong with having more!


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