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Parent Tips: Shoe Shopping Suggestions

Shoe shopping for a growing child is challenging. Kids’ feet can grow a 1/2 size every 2-4 months. So not only do you have to find a shoe that fits your child, but you also have to account for the imminent growth of their feet in that shoe. It doesn’t help that there are so many different shoe options, styles, colors and designs; I commonly feel stuck in a paradox of choice. Every brand will tell you that their shoes are the best, so what should you be looking for when shopping for a shoe for your child? 

Flexible soles 

Having flexibility in the bottom of the shoe promotes the natural muscle activity of a child without wearing shoes. You don’t want a shoe to be too rigid, but you also don’t want it to be too flimsy. If you can fold the shoe in half, is there any benefit for the child? A durable shoe with a flexible sole will continue to promote foot strengthening and most naturally promote normal foot rockers while also protecting the foot.

Heel cups

Our ankle is the connection point between the ground and the rest of the body. We want that connection to be in proper alignment, meaning a straight-line relationship between the leg and the bones on the heel of the foot. A shoe that cups along the sides of the heel can help maintain that alignment in a developing foot and promote an optimal load transfer from the floor through the leg. The extra edging on the sides of the heel will help to prevent the ankle from rolling inward or outward over itself. 

Arch support

The arches of our feet facilitate the flexibility of the foot to allow both movement and stability. The formation of these arches is directly related to the boney alignment of the foot. Promoting support for the arch on the inside of the foot and also space for the arch along the outside of the foot and along the bottom of the toes inside a shoe will help to prevent excessive pronation or flat feet. Arch support in a shoe facilitates bone development and dynamic foot mobility.

Wide fit 

The growing pediatric foot needs space to grow not only in length, but in width. Most people are familiar with having about a thumb’s length amount of space at the toe of the shoe to accommodate foot growth. However, it is the width of pediatric shoes that are commonly the most restricting. A narrow-fitting shoe will block the arches that need to form along the bones of the foot and prevent foot muscles from developing the appropriate strength and muscle pulls on the bone.

High tops

A shoe that goes up and over the ankle, like a Converse, can provide extra support at the ankle and increase stability for the foot and ankle joints. Our ankle allows motion to point our toes and bend them back toward us but allows for motion for our ankle to turn inward, or inversion, and flair outward, or eversion. These motions are commonly associated with rolling our ankle, and for a child, there is increased laxity of the ligaments that provide support but also allow these motions. A shoe with a high top acts as additional support for the ligaments that work so hard around the ankle to limit the inversion or eversion at the ankle but still allowing it to bend and straighten. 

Easy to put on

As a parent or caregiver, the ease of donning and doffing a shoe will influence how often you put the shoe on your child and how much they want to wear them. If shoes are hard to put on, your child will never wear them and the battle to put them on will make it less motivating to fight for them to be worn. When a shoe has additional zippers or fasteners that make your life easier, it will more readily become a shoe of choice. 


Let your child take part in picking out his or her shoes, because they are more likely to love them and wear them more. If your child can't be a part of the shopping process, choose colors or patterns that the child loves for added enticement. There are so many styles, designs, decorations and customizations that no child should feel stuck with a shoe that doesn't help them express themselves. 

Now what if you are shopping online?

Online shopping increases accessibility to many different shoe brands and dramatically increases your selection of personalization. If you have the option to shop around in person but don’t find the color or size you are looking for, online shopping prevents compromising. You can try on different shoes in stores to familiarize yourself with sizing and fit. Then you can order them online for a better selection. If you don’t have the choice to be able to try them on in person, look for shopping sites that offer free returns, and order a few sizes with intentions of returning any of the misfitting shoes. Also, read reviews for products to help influence your size choices and shoe fitting. Good shoes can take you to good places, so take your child to those places in the best fitting shoes.  

Dr. Caroline Ubben, PT, DPT, PCS


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