Cute, stylish, and quite expensive, toddler shoes are an impulse buy many parents can't resist. (Come on, embroidered leather puppies for your child's little piggies?) But beyond the fashion and warmth factors, are shoes really necessary for your child right now?
What's the Issue?
One of my family's many traditions is that Grandma buys the grandkids their first pair of "walking shoes." We have three bronzed pairs of first shoes…somewhere in our house. Toddler shoes can be hard to get on (darn those little curling toes!), sometimes too easy to get off (usually at the most inopportune times), and can look a bit clunky. So a question I'm frequently asked by parents is, "Is there any real health reason for my child to wear them?"
Consider the Numbers
The American footwear industry consists of 100 manufacturers, 1500 wholesalers, and over 30,000 retail outlets. According to the National Shoe Retailers Association, 500 million Americans purchase footwear annually, and 172 million of these shoppers are buying children's shoes.
In fact, our nation's footwear purchases generate 32 billion dollars in sales annually. And here's the kicker: Shoes for toddlers should only be expected to last a mere one and a half to three months!
What Parents Can Do
Know this: A big, thick-soled, rigid pair of toddler shoes is not necessary for normal gait development. In fact, most experts would say that these shoes hinder proper walking skills in early toddlerhood. While in the past chunky shoes were seen as necessary for the health of developing feet, now pediatricians and podiatrists agree that a first walking shoe should be flexible and thin. A toddler should be able to feel the ground underneath her feet. (Medically, this is called "proprioception.")
So what is the purpose of a toddler shoe? Protection and warmth are two key issues. It is one thing for a toddler to amble about indoors on a smooth carpeted floor. But it's risky when kids gallop at high speed on a bumpy concrete surface. And an extra layer on a cold day to keep those toesies warm (especially the one who ate roast beef!) makes perfect sense.
When choosing toddler shoes, parents should concentrate on fit. A shoe should fit snugly around your child's foot, but still be comfortable. If your child struggles or seems pained when trying a shoe on, don't buy it. Many parents feel most comfortable having a salesperson help with shoe fitting, especially during the early toddler months. Plan your fitting at the end of the day, when your child's (and your own) feet are five to eight percent larger—this may give the best fit estimate.