As children are beginning to walk, many parents wonder which shoe would be the best for them. This is an exciting milestone and parents want to create an ideal environment for their children to promote walking. The foot plays an important role in balance, shock absorption and propulsion during walking. The sole of the foot in particular plays a key role in being able to feel the ground and learn how to adapt to different surfaces.
The most appropriate type of shoe for children beginning to walk is a somewhat controversial topic. Some say a stiff shoe is best because it gives the child a stable foot to walk on. Others believe that a flexible shoe lets the children develop the muscles in the foot and ankle. Many pediatric physical therapists believe it is important to walk barefoot in the home in order to let the child strengthen the muscles in their foot and ankle and develop balance. However, once the child walks outside they need a shoe to protect their foot. A flexible shoe may positively impact the child’s walking, because it mimics barefoot the most and allows them to feel the ground better. This can promote balance by allowing the child to adjust their walking to accommodate different surfaces and develop muscles.
The most important thing is that the shoe fits well. New walkers are flat footed by nature, as their arches develop over time. Minimize rubbing or redness by buying a shoe that isn’t too tight or narrow. It should be comfortable and not pinch at the toes, with a thumb’s width of room at the toe box. The shoe should also have a supportive closure, so that the heel doesn’t slip out when walking, and adequate arch support (not flat soled like a flip-flop). It’s important to have a closed toe shoe with new walkers, as they are unstable and they can stumble and graze the top of their foot. Even in the warm summer months, if your child has just learned to walk, a closed toe sandal is the way to go to avoid stubbing those toes.
Corinne Slevin is a doctor of physical therapy and Clinical Supervisor at the CA Technologies Rehabilitation Center within Hospital for Special Surgery’s Lerner Children’s Pavilion. She is certified with the Neuro-Developmental Treatment Association.