Dr Tillett “Buying Shoes for Toddlers” – WebMD Interview

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Buying Shoes for ToddlersThe ins and outs of buying the best toddler shoes for your little one.By Heather Hatfield
WebMD Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Amanda Ezman is like a lot of moms when it comes to shoe shopping. Buying a pair of shoes for herself is fun and focused on fashion; shoe shopping for her 2-year-old daughter, Lilah, requires function to come first.

“When Lilah started crawling and standing, I wanted her to feel her feet and sense of balance, so I went with a softer pair of shoes,” says Ezman, who lives in Oneida, N.Y. “And then when she started walking, I wanted her to have protection and stability, so I went with something a little sturdier, like a sneaker.”

Ezman’s approach to buying shoes for toddlers is right on track. But for many parents, finding the best toddler shoes isn’t so easy. WebMD asked experts to offer advice on shoe shopping for your little wanderer.

Age-Appropriate Footwear

Although putting your 3-month-old in a pair of patent leather Mary Jane’s is OK for a special occasion, shoes are best left off your baby’s feet in the beginning.

“Babies’ feet just aren’t built for shoes,” says Joanne Cox, MD, associate chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Hospital in Boston.

Their feet have little bones, muscles, and tendons that need to grow and benefit from exercise, she says, and that can be difficult if they’re constantly scrunched in a pair of shoes.

It’s not until they are pulling to stand on their own two feet or actually walking — generally around age 1 — that babies need a little more protection.

“Before that, socks will do just fine,” Cox tells WebMD.

Tips for Buying the Best Toddler Shoes

When your toddler becomes mobile, protecting his or her feet requires Mom and Dad know a thing or two about buying the best toddler shoes.

Here is some advice from the experts on navigating the baby shoe market:

Hard soled vs. soft: Just like adult shoes, toddler shoes with soles that are too soft can cause slips and falls. “You want a shoe with a little bit of a sole, to minimize accidents,” Cox says. “Usually, a leather or rubber sole will help provide the traction your toddler needs.”

Sneakers vs. boots: “Sneakers are good because they generally don’t constrain the foot and allow for proper development,” says Steven G. Tillett, DPM, a foot and ankle specialist in Portland, Ore. Also, sneakers are usually constructed out of canvas and pliable leather, allowing the shoe to mold to a child’s foot for a good fit, he explains. 

Cheap vs. expensive: “For young children who are just learning to walk, inexpensive shoes are OK,” Cox says. The key is not so much cost — it’s that the shoe fits.

Open-toed vs. closed: “Open-toed shoes don’t offer a lot of foot protection for a child just learning to walk, so closed-toed shoes are generally better,” Cox says. And the same goes for shoes like Crocs — kids can easily trip on these types of shoes if they’re just learning to walk and not entirely stable, so hold off on these until around age 2 or later, Cox says.

New vs. used: Although it might be tempting to use hand-me-down shoes from friends or family to save a few bucks, this is one area that requires you buy new. “Kids’ shoes mold to their feet,” Cox says. “If you use a hand-me-down pair of shoes, you are forcing your child’s foot into a shoe that has already molded to the shape of someone else’s foot, which means your toddler could end up with blisters.”

Shoe Fittings for Toddlers

It all boils down to whether a shoe fits your toddler’s foot well. The first step in buying toddler shoes is to have your child’s foot sized by an expert.

“Go to a store that specializes in children’s shoes and work with a knowledgeable salesperson to get a good fitting,” Cox says.

There are three key areas of the foot that you should focus on when buying toddler shoes: the front of the shoe, the back, and the width. All three will play a part in whether or not the shoe fits properly.

“First, you want the appropriate length in the front of the shoe,” says Tillett, who is also a fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. “The general rule of thumb is you want about a centimeter to a half inch of space in the front of the shoe. Too big [and] they could be unstable; too small and it constrains the foot.”

Width is also very important, Tillett says.

Kids’ feet tend to be wider when they are younger, and as the foot grows, the length proportionately catches up to the width. So you want a shoe to accommodate a wider foot, and you need it to not be too restrictive or too tight through the arch.

“The key to making sure a shoe is the right width is to use the tongue of the shoe as a guide,” Tillett says.

The tongue of the shoe and the edges where the laces or Velcro are usually located should be parallel; if there is too much space between them, the shoe maybe too tight, and if they overlap too much, the shoe is too loose, Tillett says.

Finally, the back of the shoe should offer some wiggle room as well.

“You want to make sure the heel of the shoe is not too loose so they slip out of it, and not too constricting that it puts strain on the Achilles tendon,”Tillett says. “The rule of thumb here is that you should be able to slip your pinky finger in the heel, but only up to the first knuckle. Anything more than that and the shoe is too big, and anything less and it’s too tight.”

Tips for Buying Shoes for Toddlers

Your toddler will need a new pair of shoes and a new sizing about every two to four months, experts say. So before you go out and buy a dozen pairs of shoes for your little one, you might want to focus on the basics.

“You really only need one, or maybe two, pairs of shoes for your toddler — a play shoe like a sneaker, and possibly a dress-up shoe,” Cox says.

When you are buying toddler shoes, each shopping trip should be treated like the first — examine all aspects of the shoe and make sure it fits all around. And, an important tip to remember is that kids’ shoes are different from brand to brand, style to style, and sometimes even from shoe to shoe, Cox says. So the “trying on” experience is important.

Also, bring a pair of socks with you when you’re shoe shopping for your toddler.

“In general, you want your child to wear socks with his shoes to prevent chafing,” Cox says.

Finally, when you’ve followed the advice of an expert shoe salesperson, and used your own rules of thumb to gauge whether or not a shoe fits, follow one last simple test when buying toddler shoes: Ask your little one to walk around in them.

“I would watch my daughter walk around in the shoe,” Ezman says. “I didn’t really worry so much about the style of the shoe — instead I thought about whether it looked comfortable, and fit well.”

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