There are some oh-so-cute shoes on the market for little ones (insert Aunty shopping spree here) but it is important to remember the foot and leg alignment begins in utero and develops exponentially within the first decade. At birth, the foot is flexible and flat and by age seven, the arch structure and joint stiffness are almost fully formed. Like adult shoes, footwear can both help and hinder form and function, so choosing support over sparkles for everyday kids & teenagers shoes is an important step in setting them up with healthy and strong feet for life.
0-4 years of age
For pre-walkers, keep little feet free of tight-fitting jumpsuits, sleeping bags and socks, ensuring they have adequate toe wiggle room. Once your little one is standing and cruising, let them explore barefoot on non-slip, soft-based surfaces to encourage proprioception, balance and strength. Avoid slippery tiles and socks as these will reduce the child’s confidence and stability. A soft enclosed shoe with a non-slip sole, plus a thick rug or carpet gives a softer landing and better grip.Once your little one is on the move independently, the aim is to promote a stable, heel-to-toe gait cycle in both walking and running, whilst building strength and endurance in the feet and legs. For youngsters who are finding it hard to balance, are slower to hit walking milestones, are toe walkers, or have experienced foot and leg complications i.e. hip dysplasia or club foot, a wide lasted, stable shoe with a slight heel (Nike Air Max 90s tick all the boxes for this) is important to assist walking progress. Once your child is confidently tearing around the house, the shoe stability can be stripped back and a more flexible soled shoe can be utilised to help develop intrinsic muscle strength and further stability.
The golden rules for toddlers:
- Barefoot (no socks) is best to build strength and stability
- Shoes should be worn when required for warmth and protection
- Shoes need to be enclosed around the heel and toe
- Shoes shouldn’t be easily slipped on / off i.e. thongs and ballet flats as this causes toe gripping
- Well-structured sandals are best for summer
- Shoes should be shaped with a wide toe box with enough room to let the toes spread
- The fit of the shoe should be slightly broader and longer than the foot, without causing slipping and tripping
- Natural, breathable materials i.e. leather, sheepskin should be utilised when possible
The demands placed on the feet significantly change once a child hits school age including structured exercise programs, concrete play areas, weighted school bags and walking to/from school. This requires more structured shoes to provide adequate shock absorption, foot support and durability.
The golden rules for school-age kids & teenagers:
- The shoe passes the flex test by bending at the forefoot, not in the middle, and not able to be twisted
- The shoes hold themselves on with a fastening mechanism i.e. laces or Velcro straps
- The fit is snug around the width of the foot, not sloppy and not tight
- The toe box shape allows for the toes to wiggle and is not tapered inwards
- At the time of purchase, there is a full thumbs width in extra length at the toe
- There is a small heel to toe gradient, that is, the shoes aren’t dead flat
- There is a firm heel counter to support the back of the heel
- The shoes are replaced just before the toes are in contact with the end of the shoe
- Opt for rubber-soled school shoes that are light-weight and have a fastening mechanism such as laces or Velcro
- Running shoes make for a great multi-sport shoe and for weekend wear
- A sport-specific shoe i.e. football boots and netball shoes are important for competitive sport
In addition, if your child is complaining of tired legs, is tripping up regularly, is experiencing pain at night, during, or after activity, consulting with a sports podiatrist, Physio or GP is recommended. With your foresight, proactive approach and savvy shoe investment, your kids (and their feet) will thank you later.