Posted on: 10.06.2015.

Author: Ana G

How to Pick the Right Shoe for Your Child

Image courtesy of, licensed under CC0 1.0

As adults, many of us suffer from aching feet and foot related problems. While almost 98% of people are born with healthy feet, only 40% of them still have these by the time they reach adulthood. The main reason for this drastic drop in the health of feet is the practice of buying ill-fitted shoes. To ensure the health of your child's feet, it is essential that the right shoes are purchased for each stage of their growth.

Children's feet will grow up to 12 sizes in their first three years of development. Unfortunately, over 50% of these children are wearing shoes that are too small for their feet. Wearing proper footwear is especially crucial for children whose feet are still growing and developing. As a parent, knowing how to choose the right shoes for your child is of the utmost importance.

Shopping for children’s shoes can be a frustrating experience for both parents and kids. However, when the parent is clear on the shoe requirements for a particular stage of their child's development, it makes shopping for shoes with children much easier to deal with. By knowing the factors required for choosing the correct shoes ahead of time, half of the battle is won before even arriving at the store.

The Anatomy of a Child's Shoe

For parents, understanding the anatomy of a child's shoe is the first step towards choosing the correct shoe for their child. There are many different components to a shoe, including:

  • Toe box – the area that the toes fit into; it should provide enough space for the child's healthy and unobstructed foot development
  • Insole - the added padding inserted into the bottom of the shoe; it should have odor control and anti-bacterial properties
  • Anatomical insole – the custom-fitted insole for the inside of the shoe; it should offer additional support and improve child’s balance and posture
  • Lining – the covering for the inside of the shoe; it should provide comfort and allow the feet to breathe
  • Sole - the bottom layer of the shoe; it should be flexible and slip-resistant
  • Heel – the rear part of the bottom layer of the shoe; it should provide shock absorption to the child's feet
  • Heel stabilizer – the part that forms the heel; it should provide additional support to the child's ankles and feet while walking

Things to Keep in Mind When Picking the Right Shoe

There are many areas to cover when purchasing the right shoe for a child. Many factors make this particular shopping adventure a scary world of uncertainty for parents. A parent should take the following factors into account when choosing their child’s shoes. This will make the whole process easier and more comfortable for both the parent and the child.

Child's Age

It is important to address the age of the child when choosing the correct shoe for each stage of their foot development. The shoe requirements for infants, toddlers and small children are very different. They each call for different types of shoes and materials necessary to ensure healthy foot growth and development.


At the start of their lives, babies have extremely soft bones in their feet. This is because at this particular stage of development their feet contain more cartilage than bone, which over time fuses and hardens into adult bones. Therefore, delicate baby feet require baby socks or soft shoes. These shoes should have good breathability as well, as infants' feet sweat twice as much as adults'.


Purchasing the right shoes for this stage of development is essential every three to four months. Shoes should have enough room for the toes to move comfortably, while still supporting the ankle. Proper insole cushioning is a must, as these little tornados are ready to be on their feet all day.

Small Children

Having mastered the balance portion of getting around, these little bundles of energy keep parents on their toes. At this stage, shoes should offer great cushioning on the inside, be made out of breathable materials and ensure proper heel and ankle support for the child. The tiny scholars are in their shoes for 8 hours or more every day. Shoes for these go-getters need to be lightweight and flexible. Parents should check their child's shoe size every six months to ensure proper fit and healthy foot growth into the teen years.

Shoe Size

''Mama's boots - Day 320'' by David D is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It is important to consistently check the size of the child's growing feet. Sizing feet for shoes should be done at the end of the day when the feet are the most swelled from daily use. The child's foot length should be measured at home by using the following techniques:

Measure from wall to toe

Have the child stand up against a wall with their feet flat on the floor and draw lines where the longest toes of each foot end. Mark this on the floor and measure the distance from the line back to the wall.

Draw an outline

Have the child stand on the piece of paper on the floor and trace the outline of the child's feet onto it. Younger children are especially receptive to this method, as they think of the process of tracing the feet as a fun game. Measure from the heel of the outline to the longest toe.

Consult shoe size chart

After you've measured the child's feet, use a sizing chart to find the correct size shoe for the child. Should the size fall between two sizes, opt for the larger one. One foot is naturally larger than the other, so it is important to fit the shoe to the longer foot.

Use a template

Trace the child's feet onto a piece of cardboard. Add 12 mm of space to the entire outline. Using scissors, cut out this form and place it in the shoe. If the insert fits in the shoe, it is the correct size.

Shoe Material

''Oficina de Shantala'' by ASCOM Prefeitura de Votuporanga is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The shoes that are purchased for young children need to be breathable, flexible and have anti-bacterial properties. Children's feet are sweatier than adult's by a ratio of 2 to 3 times. Keeping their feet dry is essential to the hindrance of the growth of bacteria and fungus that cause smelly shoes and unhealthy stinky feet. 

Outer Shell

The best materials for the child's shoes are the natural ones, such as canvas or leather. Each of these materials allows for the child's feet to breathe by preventing moisture and circulating air within the shoe, while at the same time offering protection for the feet from the outside. This protective inside allows the child to play and toddle all day without having blisters, smelly feet or feeling any discomfort. Also, the shoes made from natural materials are moldable and will expand with the changes of the foot throughout the day.

Plastic and synthetic materials do not have these properties. Therefore, these materials prevent the child's tiny feet from breathing, as the shoes hold in the moisture, create sores and blisters and encourage bacterial growth. 


Once up and running, children are a force to be dealt with for many hours of the day. Due to poor air circulation in the shoes and their prolonged usage, the child's tiny little feet will start to sweat very soon, leading to potential fungus and bacteria development that causes feet and shoe odor.

Besides the above mentioned tips on how to help your child’s feet breathe, these common shoe problems can be prevented by using a specialized insole, i.e. a removable layer placed inside the shoe that provides extra comfort and support to the child’s feet.


Shoe Structure

Choosing properly structured shoes will ensure healthy development of the child's growing feet. Studies have indicated in the past that younger children require more flexible footwear because they still have small bones and soft tendons in their feet. Therefore, they require a shoe that is flexible enough to allow for freedom of movement, but sturdy enough to offer the required support for stability and balance, without prohibiting proper foot growth.


The best footwear for children are shoes with flexible soles that will bend with the child's foot with every step, offer support in the center of the shoe to eliminate twisting their feet and give shock absorption and stabilization in the heels. The bottom of the shoe needs to have a textured surface with no-slip properties. It is important to be able to widen the shoes for dressing purposes, therefore shoes with tie strings or Velcro are a great help to parents.

Snug Fit

The fit of the shoe should be comfortable without falling off. This usually means excluding shoes such as slip-ons and backless ones. The shoes should be snug enough to stay on without the heel of the foot coming out of the shoe while the child is moving.


''Who needs shoes?'' by Travis Swan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Anatomical Insoles

Insoles that are customized to the child's exact foot give added padding to the heels of the feet and added comfort throughout. They are an essential addition to the child's shoes ensuring the healthy development of their feet.

Inserting anatomically shaped insoles offers children an extra level of stability and comfort, improving the child's balance and posture. They are suitable for all day use and are built to help absorb the shock from the heel as the child walks around, while also giving an extra gripping power to the toes. 

Fit Testing Your Child’s Shoe

Bringing children along for the shopping of shoes is essential, as each shoe fits differently. Choose a store that specializes in children's shoes, as the staff will be well trained and used to dealing with children.

Plan shopping trips in the afternoon when the feet are the most swollen. It is important to measure the child’s feet during every purchase. Also, both of the child’s feet should be measured, as one foot is usually larger than the other and parents need to buy the shoes that accommodate the larger of the two feet.

After checking the shoes' material (breathability) and structure (heel stabilization, firm middle and flexibility), it is time for the child to try them on.

  • When trying on shoes, children should be standing up, with their weight evenly distributed on both feet and their toes flat in a natural spread.
  • When checking the length, there should be around 12 mm of space between the longest toe and the end of the shoe, in order for the toes to spread out for better comfort and stability.
  • Pressing on the top of the shoe will reveal where the toes are located, and whether they are pressed too firmly against the shoe wall. All toes should be able to move freely without crunching together.
  • Squeezing the shoe material on the sides will indicate whether the width of the shoe is acceptable.

Background image courtesy of, licensed under CC0 1.0

  • The back of the shoe should fit snugly when you insert your finger between the heel and the back of the shoe.
  • With their shoes on, the child should stand up and walk around the store for a little while. After taking the shoes off, there should be no marks left behind on the child's feet, assuring no need for the child to go through a ''breaking in'' period of their shoes and allowing them to wear the shoes immediately.

Help Your Child Start Off on the ‘’Right’’ Foot

When a parent is properly prepared, a shopping trip for new shoes can be a pleasurable and fun experience for the whole family. Keeping feet healthy by making an informed purchasing decision is a practice that will carry over into adulthood for your children. Armed with the knowledge on choosing the correct shoes for your child, you will be ready to face your next children's shoe shopping experience with confidence.