Parents frequently ask me what the best option is for their child when they are learning to walk: shoes or barefoot? This is a topic that has been controversial in the past. It was once suggested that new walkers should wear shoes with thick soles so that they are provided with additional support that is required for proper foot development; however, this is false. The new philosophy is quite the opposite; shoes can provide too much support and can possibly limit the child’s muscle and gait development. The bottom line is that a child should be barefoot as much as possible until he or she is about two years of age.
Below are some explanations and tips for new walker footwear:
- A child’s foot muscles are very small and they will become stronger as the child learns to walk. With shoes that provide too much support, these muscles will not strengthen properly when the child is learns to walk.
- Walking barefoot not only strengthens a child’s foot and ankle muscles, it also facilitates proper development of the arches and balance skills while encouraging a natural gait pattern.
- It is important for a new walker to feel the ground beneath their feet and the differences between carpet, hard floors, grass, etc. This will not only foster good sensory development, but also facilitate development of their proprioception skills (where their foot is in reference to the rest of their body).
- Walking barefoot is not always appropriate. In the winter, or when venturing outside, socks that include non-slip bottoms or shoes made of cloth or leather are the best options. These will provide protection and warmth while still giving the child freedom.
- When choosing shoes for your toddler, the best shoes will be flat and will be made of cloth or leather. A flexible sole will minimize tripping. Cloth and leather will allow your child’s feet to breathe and decrease excessive sweating.
- I recommend shoes like the Robeez. In addition to being completely adorable, these shoes have all of the features required to optimize development of a toddler’s foot when learning to walk.
As a parent, you always want to provide the best care for your child and do everything possible to foster development. When it comes to shoe wear, the choice is easy: the simpler, the better. Barefoot is best and if your child must wear something on their feet, use the tips above. Keep in mind that these suggestions are for children who are developing normally. If you are unsure about what is best for your child with neurological or orthopedic conditions, be sure to consult your pediatrician or a physical therapist.