Helping your kids put their best foot forward
During a lifetime, your child’s feet will take around 216 million steps – that’s like walking around the world more than four times. When your baby starts walking, their little feet will take 176 steps per minute! It’s at this critical stage that a lifetime of foot health can either be created or destroyed. That might sound dramatic, but there are a number of reasons why the early baby and toddler years are so crucial to foot health:
Feet can be moulded
A particularly drastic example of how badly the foot's development can be interfered with is the binding of girls' feet in China. Until the 1930s, tiny "lily feet" were considered beautiful in China. Little girls' feet were bound to resemble a fist, the toes curled in until they pointed back towards the heel.
It is possible to create the same sort of damage by putting your toddler in too-small or ill-fitting shoes. This is because the bones in a child’s feet are formed from soft, pliable cartilage – the cartilage doesn’t solidify into bone until approximately 5 years of age. During those crucial first few years, the foot needs as much room as possible to grow and form naturally, without being moulded by shoes.
Kids can’t feel when their shoes are too small
Children’s feet are as soft and pliable as rubber, so they can be forced into shoes that are much too short. On top of this, their nervous systems are not fully developed, so they don’t find the shoes uncomfortable and therefore can’t tell you that they’re too small – even if they have the language skills to do so. It doesn’t hurt for a child to wear too-small shoes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not doing them damage.
You won’t see an older child with a bound foot – nothing that extreme – but claw toes, hammertoes, retracted toes, ingrown toenails and slanted big toes are all common problems directly caused by too-small shoes.
They grow like weeds!
Your child’s foot will probably grow two full sizes each year for the first four or five years. This means they can very quickly grow out of their shoes, without you even realising it. The toes should never be touching the end of the shoe. We recommend measuring your child’s foot length, and the inside length of their shoes, every 6-8 weeks.
For older children, you need to allow 12mm ‘grow room’ – so the innersole length of their shoe should be 12mm longer than their foot measurement. For babies and toddlers this much extra length is too unwieldy, so 5mm is recommended until about 3 years of age. It can be tempting to buy shoes big in order for your kids to ‘grow into’ them, but this can lead to excessive rubbing causing calluses, and even force kids to develop claw toes to try to hold onto their shoes!
Feet are totally out of proportion
By the time your baby turns one, their feet will be almost half of their adult foot size. As an example, my size-9 feet measure nearly 26cm; while at one year old my little boy’s feet were already measuring over 13cm.
This means that little feet shod in good-fitting spacious shoes can look rather large. It’s very hard to buy dainty toddler shoes, and for good reason – toddlers don’t have dainty feet. This is a much more serious problem for little girls, and as a result women tend to have four times as many foot problems as men in later life. By all means choose the cutest shoes you can find, but without compromising on space for your child’s feet to grow properly. Expect them to look a little big for your child. It’s perfectly normal.
Only 3% of children’s shoes have the correct inner length
Or to look at it another way, 97% of shoe sizes are wrong! That means you shouldn’t rely on shoe sizes when buying children’s shoes. Even trying them on is deceptive, especially if they’re closed-toe and you can’t see how much room the child has. The only accurate way is to measure them.
A baby’s feet sweat twice as much as an adult’s
Another strange-but-true fact. This excess sweat means they’re more susceptible to blisters, slipping in their shoes, and stinky feet! Use only socks and shoes made of breathable, absorbent material such as cotton, canvas or leather.
Top tips for healthy feet
- Inner length is the only ‘size’ that matters. Take a tape measure shoe shopping with you, and measure the inner length of the shoes. It should be 5mm longer than your toddler’s foot (for under-3s) or 12mm longer than your child’s foot (for over-3s).
- Barefoot is best. Let your child walk without shoes whenever possible to let their feet develop naturally.
- When buying children’s shoes, look for plenty of room and width in the toe area, a secure fastening, a supportive heel cup (the heel is the only place a shoe should ‘fit’ the foot), and obviously a flat heel.
Your child’s feet have to carry the weight of their body throughout their lifetime. Neglecting foot health invites problems in other parts of the body, such as the legs and back. The first year is critical, the first 3 years are still very important, and the feet don’t finish growing for about 18 years. Help them put their best foot forward by giving them a lifetime of healthy feet.
Thank you to Bugalugz Shoes for this Article.
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