When it comes to covering your little ones’ feet, choosing fashion over utility can be tempting. I mean, those tiny little shoes can be soooo cute. But let’s remember: toddler shoes have a big job to do. They must support (and shape) little feet as they grow and learn to perform the business of walking. So the style of support you choose is incredibly important. But before we turn to discussions of shoe styles, let’s explore a bigger question: when exactly should children start wearing shoes?

When do kids need shoes?

Quite simply, before they start walking, kids don’t need shoes. And, they really should go barefoot whenever it’s safe to do so. If their feet need covering, opt for something with a soft sole. Why? Before kids learn to walk, shoes provide no useful purpose. And once they’re ready to start walking? That’s the first time they should be offered hard-soled shoes. But still, you have to be careful about the style of shoe you select.

What style of shoe is best for toddlers? Just say no to toddler flip flops!

Let’s remember: walking barefoot is still a great choice for new walkers. It can really help develop the muscles of their growing feet, so go free of shoes whenever possible. But skip barefoot walking on hard surfaces like wood or stone, because the impact could interfere with the formation of your toddler’s arches.

When shoes are on, look for styles with leather or rubber soles—and plenty of grip. The firm support will help kids’ bones fuse properly, and the grip will help prevent those unsteady feet from slips and falls.

Sneakers are usually your best style choice, no matter how cute those tiny sandals and boots may be. Why? Sneakers offer the perfect mix of support in the sole and upper foot. They also give some flexibility for growing bones, and keep little feet covered and protected from the summer sun.

And speaking of summer: let’s get this one over with fast: say no to flip flops!  Because of the way toes need to grip to keep the sandals in place, toddler flip flops can increase your child’s risk of developing hammertoes.

Another style to avoid? Teeny-tiny high heels! Little girls may want to dress just like mom, but it’s best to leave the matching styles for their clothes, not their shoes. Heels, even in moderation, can change the way your child’s body mechanics work. They can shorten the Achilles tendon, change the shape of the foot, and throw off balance.

One final note on toddler shoes: make sure they fit well! Kids’ feet grow very fast. Some toddlers may outgrow their shoes every two or three months! Can’t tell how those shoes fit? One sure way is to visit a children’s shoe store. But if you want to test fit at home, just follow the rule of thumb (literally.) There should be at least a thumb’s width of space between your child’s longest toe and the end of his or her shoe. At the heel, you should have a pinky finger’s worth of space. And if your child seems reluctant to wear his or her shoes, or gets fussy after walking a short distance, it’s worth investigating the fit—and investing in a new pair. Remember, your toddler may not have the language to explain that his or her shoes hurt. It’s your job to read between the feet to keep them walking comfortably!  


Jordana White
Jordana Rothstein White