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Parent Tips: What's The Best Way To Start My Child Wearing Shoes?

There are so many things to be concerned about as your child progresses developmentally. Your child wearing shoes shouldn't be one of them. Shoes protect your child's feet from both the weather and the ground, so use that as guidance for when shoes should be worn. Children shouldn't be wearing shoes all the time, as it is good practice for feet to get stronger by reacting to the ground during play. Shoes are adorable outfit accessories for kids before they start playing on their feet. 

When should I start putting my kids in shoes? 

When your child is pulling up to stand around the house is a developmentally appropriate time to start letting your child practice wearing shoes. Additionally, when your child is playing outside, whether in the backyard, at the park or in your neighborhood, this is a perfect time to practice your child getting acclimated to shoe wear, as we want feet protected when outside the house. 

What if my child hates wearing shoes? 

Have you already tried putting shoes on your child only to find they are very resistant to them? First of all, you are not alone -- many children pull their shoes off and are uncomfortable with shoes on their feet. Graded sensory exposure to shoes is the best way to improve their acceptance and tolerance to wearing shoes. This means start small and slowly increase the time they are in shoes. Start with having them put shoes on when you are going outside and immediately distract them with play or walking to limit the attention they may have to the shoes being on. We need shoes on when outside to prevent injuries to the foot, so this is a natural first place to start building that sensory exposure. Putting shoes on consistently when outside and making it a habit will help to prevent taking off shoes from becoming a negative behavior, as the consistency of that expectation will promote consistent shoe wear. If it is as hot as it is here in Florida during the summer and being outside is not a reasonable first opportunity for graded exposure to wearing shoes, play with wearing shoes inside but start with a short amount of time. Start with as a little as 5-10 minutes during one standing play time and make sure the activity in engaging and fun, to distract from the shoes on your child's feet. Then each day or week, increase the time by 1 minute to build up their tolerance to footwear. These tips can be a helpful way to slowly introduce shoes to your child without burning them out on the sensory experience. 

How often should my child wear shoes? 

Every child is different, and that equally applies to how often they should be wearing shoes. I generally suggest the goal of "equal time in and out of shoes." So, ideally your child would be spending about half their day in a shoe and about half their day out of a shoe. This would help to equalize the benefits between the wearing shoes and being barefoot. If your child is hitting all their milestones on time or ahead of time, then having them spend more time barefoot would be developmentally appropriate to promote improved balance and strength in their feet. If your child may be playing catch-up in milestones due to prematurity or an asymmetry in strength, then more time in a shoe will help to stabilize his or her ankle, while getting stronger up-the-chain. Spending more time in a shoe is helpful when more support is needed but less time in a shoe is best if they don’t need that support.

What if my child still has difficulty walking when in shoes? 

Even with the most supportive of shoes, some children need more support at their feet than shoes from the store can provide. Shoe inserts or orthoses that support the foot and ankle can be worn inside shoes to provide the best alignment for the muscles of the legs. Some children need this extra support for a short time and other children need it throughout growth spurts, where our bones and muscles grow at different rates. If you are concerned your child may need more support than a shoe is providing in standing, as your pediatrician or physical therapist to assess their standing posture. 

Dr. Caroline Ubben, PT, DPT, CPS

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