The lowdown on baby and toddler shoes
Before babies start walking, they don’t need shoes. In fact, supportive shoes like hard-soled Mary Janes may actually get in the way of your child’s mobility. Socks, booties, and soft-soled baby shoes are useful for warmth, but bare feet are fine, too.
Unlike “baby shoes,” which are slipper-like, first shoes will have a flexible, nonskid sole (probably rubber) and a substantial upper. Shoes protect kids’ feet outdoors and anywhere else that could be hazardous, such as a splintery surface. Indoors, it’s still a good idea to let new walkers wear protective soft baby shoes or socks. Toddling around with feet bare or lightly covered actually helps little ones build strength and coordination in their legs and feet.
Note: Your child’s foot is still developing, so it won’t look (or act) like an adult foot. If your child still has baby-fat padding under the arches, for example, she might appear a bit flat-footed. Or she may have a tendency to turn her toes in when she walks, called in-toeing or toeing in.
Mention any concerns to your child’s doctor; it’s easier to correct foot problems when a child is younger.
What to look for when buying
Choose laces or Velcro. Velcro fasteners make it easier to get shoes on and off, and you won’t have to worry about retying laces all day long. But a child may figure out how to remove his shoes and take them off when you wish he wouldn’t! If you get shoes with laces, make sure they’re long enough to tie into double knots, so they won’t come undone as often.
Go for a breathable, lightweight material. Soft leather or cloth is best. Avoid stiff leather, which can hinder foot development, and synthetics, which don’t breathe.
Bend the soles. They should be flexible and have grip, not smooth and stiff.
Check the fit. It’s important for a child to try on shoes. When he stands, there should be just enough room to squeeze your pinky between his heel and the heel of the shoe, and a full thumb-width between the end of his longest toe and the front of the shoe. Because little feet grow quickly, it’s a good idea to check every month to make sure the shoes still fit.
Give a squeeze. If the shoe is made of soft fabric, try to grab some of the material on the top of the foot when your child is wearing them. If you can’t, the shoes might be too tight.
Shop later in the day. Babies’ feet swell and are often bigger at the end of the day. Shoes purchased in the morning might feel tight in the evening.
Look for problem spots. Your baby’s shoes shouldn’t need any breaking in. Let your child toddle around indoors wearing them, then take them off and look for irritated areas on your child’s foot.
Important safety notes
Buying shoes is, and should be, low stress because there aren’t many safety issues. However, children’s sandals and shoes have been recalled in recent years due to decorative items or fasteners that can detach and pose a choking hazard, or sharp metal parts that can cause laceration hazards. Check product recalls from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to make sure your child’s shoes aren’t on the recall list.
What it’s going to cost you
Simple baby shoes can cost as little as $15 to $20 and as much as $40.