What to Look for When Shopping for Children’s Shoes

Shoe shopping can be quite the ordeal for many of us.  Once we find a style we like and in the size we think we need, we have to see how it fits. Does it pinch? Is it too tight or not snug enough? Does it have enough arch support?  And so forth.  For me, I need to make sure it has a wide toe box for my not-so-petite feet but a very narrow heel cup so that it doesn’t slide off my super skinny heels when I walk. And not every shoe fits me the same way. I may be a size 8 in one brand and a whole size bigger in another.  It’s not an easy or quick task, and certainly not one I enjoy.

On the contrary, when we parents buy shoes for our kids, particularly infants and toddlers, we do not take much time at all.  It simply boils down to how adorable they are.  Unfortunately, feet are at their most crucial phase of development in the first 7 years of life.  Yet, ironically we don’t take as much care in choosing their shoes as we do our own.  Ill-fitting shoes can alter the shapes of a child’s foot and present a life-long impact on numerous health issues.

DID YOU KNOW?  Approximately 70% of foot problems come from wearing the wrong shoes?

If it weren’t for our first born, whose extra wide feet could not and would not even enter into any ordinary pair of baby shoes, I wouldn’t know about any of this.  The only shoes that would fit him for the first year and a half of his life were Stride Rite shoes.  No other shoes were made with specific widths in mind for infants and toddlers at the time.

DID YOU KNOW?  Many infants start out with wide feet that eventually diminish in width with time, or more accurately, their feet’s length eventually catches up with their width.

Do babies really need shoes?  When at all possible, infants are best left barefoot.   This is because the muscles and bones in their feet are just beginning to be formed and need to be free of any restrictions in order to develop properly. Shoes are not really necessary until children start to walk, and even then, keeping them barefoot while at home is most desirable.

DID YOU KNOW? The foot consists of whopping 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles and tendons?

What shoes are the best shoes for children and toddlers?  As much as I hate to admit it, shoes are really made for support and protection and not for how cute they look with a particular outfit.  Because a toddler only needs a couple of pairs of shoes, you don’t need to spend a fortune on several pairs to go with every outfit in their closet. Rather than buying several of lesser quality, instead invest in a couple of good pairs of shoes.  Now, this doesn’t mean they can’t be cute, too.  For example, Stride Rite has a whole line of children’s shoes that are both stylish and of great quality.  These are my kids’ current Stride Rite favorites to wear on (almost) a daily basis (the first two light up):

Take the “1, 2, 3 Test” recommended by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA).  I performed this test on all the shoes my kids currently have in their closet and was surprised to find out how many top brands of shoes fail this test.  Yikes!  However, none of our Stride Rite shoes failed.  I want my kids to start off on the right foot in life, so I’ll be doing this test each and every time I shop for their shoes from now on.


  • A well-constructed and durable shoe (Just because a shoe is expensive doesn’t mean it is either.)
  • A lightweight shoe (Heavy shoes hinder the development of normal walking pattern.)
  • A breathable, non-synthetic upper like cloth or soft leather
  • A shoe that is easy to put on (Think about putting shoes on a wiggly and un-cooperating toddler.)
  • A leather or a rubber sole with some sort of traction to avoid slipping
  • Soles with a rigid middle that doesn’t easily twist (which signals a lack in support) and a flexible toe box that bends with your child’s toes (The younger the child, the thinner and more flexible the soles.)
  • A stiff heel cup that does not collapse
  • Closed-toed shoes for more stability and protection


  • Get your child sized in length and width by an expert salesman at a children’s shoe shop (even if you don’t plan on purchasing a pair there).  For the past 90 years, Stride Rite has provided expert shoe fittings for children. With its Fit Training Program, it is the only company to receive the APMA Seal of Acceptance.
  • With your child standing up, the longest toe should have at least a centimeter but less than half an inch of wiggle room.  The back of the heel should have a little room (about a pinky’s worth) but not be too loose.
  • Both feet are often different in size – one is generally smaller than the other.  That’s actually normal.  Size shoes for the larger of the two feet.
  • Nothing should be too rigid or constricting, including the arch. (Arch support is not needed until arches develop later in childhood.)
  • Shoes should irritate any part of the foot.  There should be no “breaking-in” period with children’s shoes.
  • Inspect all parts of the shoe (inside and out), including the tongue, seams and any decorative parts, for anything that could pose a “poking” problem.
  • If the shoes will be worn with socks, try them on with socks (it’s a good idea to bring some along with you for this purpose).
  • Watch your child walk in both shoes for a good amount of time. Does he or she look comfortable in them? Does he or she want to take them off?  When you take them off, are there any red spots from where the shoe was rubbing?

DID YOU KNOW?  Wearing second-hand shoes is not recommended, as no two pairs of feet are alike. Soles and heels get worn down in different spots and at different rates, and the insoles get shaped by and molded to an individual’s foot over time, which can adversely affect the second person’s foot. Not to mention, would you really want to share fungi?

Always take your child shoe shopping with you, but hopefully not during mealtimes or naptimes, which are potential meltdown periods.  Don’t just rely on the size your child was the last time you bought shoes, even if it was that same day.  Different brands and styles (even in the same brand!) can fit differently, so have your child try on every shoe every time. 

How often should I measure my child’s foot?  Typically children’s feet grow about a half size every 2-4 months into their teen years, so make sure to get your child measured according to this chart:

  • From birth to 15 months, every 2 months
  • From 15 months to 2 years, every 2 to 3 months
  • From 2 to 3 years, every 3 to 4 months
  • From 3 to 5 years of age, every 4 months

Shoes should be one of the more important purchases we make for our children.

When the shoe is of good quality and fit, I know it.  I can feel the difference with the shoe in my hand and can see the difference in my children.  They get just the right support and protection they need, but are so happy and comfortable that they feel like they are walking barefooted.  And I know I am making an investment in their future health.


ANOM received Stride Rite shoes in exchange for this post, but the views and opinions expressed have not been influenced.

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