Understanding how your toddler’s feet develop will help you to make sure they have healthy feet, writes Adrienn Dunn.
As your toddler starts standing up and taking her first steps, you might find yourself asking the question: what is best for my child’s feet when they are ready to wander around confidently? We often read debates about barefoot vs healthy shoes but there is much more to it than just considering these two choices. Looking after their feet from the moment they are born will help to protect them from foot and other problems later on in their lives.
The structure of the human body is primarily dependent on our two feet, and built up in a way that the foot is linked to the leg and the upper body by muscles and ligaments. Just as a building needs a good basic foundation to avoid the entire structure collapsing, cracking or becoming uneven, the right foundation for the health of children’s feet should be also a core focus area and should become part of daily routine. This has a significant impact on the upper body.
Children love being active: walking, running, jumping and climbing. One way to keep them healthy is to do these activities with them, and healthy feet will help them to do all of that with ease.
Kick off shoes indoors
Children’s feet are only fully developed by the end of their teenage years. Babies’ feet are built up with soft cartilage that gradually hardens over the years.
When toddlers begin to explore the world around them by taking their first steps, let them be barefoot as much as possible. This is vital for the development of healthy feet and will enable them to receive important sensory information. It will also support developing balance, co-ordination and correct body posture.
However, they should rather walk barefoot in safe and trusted environments like your home. Allowing them to venture without the protection of footwear may be risky and cause more harm, given the open exposure to our polluted environments – some children end up with infections, fractures and/or injuries.
Keep an eye on the growth of their feet
Children’s feet grow gradually and till they reach their teenage years. On average, from birth to three years, kids’ feet grow approximately 1.5mm a month, and between three and six years, their foot growth is approximately 1mm a month. After six, their foot growth slows down to just under 1mm a month.
Of course, from time to time they go through growth spurts, so you should keep an eye on their individual growth patterns by measuring their feet regularly: at least every two to three months under three years, and for older kids, every four to six months.
Before you buy a pair of shoes for your child, the lengths and widths of both of their feet should be measured by a trained shoe fitter. The size of their footwear should be selected based on these measurements. If a shoe is not fitted well, and is either too small or too big, it can lead to deformities. Most foot problems, including poor gait patterns and body alignment, are caused by wearing ill-fitting shoes from a young age.
Choose the right shoes
When selecting a pair of shoes for your child, the following should be the key determining factors: shoe structure, function and your child’s age. These are all important for supporting the healthy development of your child’s feet.
Babies need only loose socks or booties for keeping their feet warm, otherwise they should be without footwear most of the time.
Once they are ready to walk outside, it will be in their best interest to protect their delicate feet with the right pair of shoes. It is recommended that you measure their feet before selecting their first pair of shoes. The first shoes of your child should have wide toe-caps, and flexible, thin rubber soles (they should feel close to barefoot), and ankle and heel support.
Toddlers and preschoolers like to walk, run and jump, so their footwear should have firm ankle support, flexible soles, built-in shock absorbers and enough room for growth. Their footwear should be made of breathable materials (i.e. leather or canvas) as their feet can sweat a lot as a consequence of all the activities they do. The firm ankle support helps them walk more confidently and with their heads up.
Footwear that is lacking these features may increase the chances for fractures and injuries as well as in- or out-toeing, bending legs and knock knees.
Examine their feet regularly
Check their feet for any inflammation, scaling or peeling at least once a week. Examine their feet for any cuts, blisters and red spots caused by small or tight shoes. Discolouration of the toenails or flaky skin can be caused by fungal infections.
Be sure to look for any feet deformities or injuries as these can affect the child’s walking style, body posture and even their behaviour – a child with foot problems may feel shy and become introverted as a consequence.
Keep their feet dry and clean
After bathing your toddler and washing their feet with soap and water, you should dry their feet thoroughly, as fungal bacteria love a moist environment, especially in-between the toes. Their nails should be kept short and cut straight to avoid inflammation.
Every parent wants the best for their children: for them to put their best foot forward as they develop and grow. You can do this – literally – by ensuring that your child spends time barefoot indoors, and wears proper, correctly fitted shoes to protect their delicate feet. Be sure to keep an eye on their feet and have all these become part of your
daily routines, so that your toddlers develops strong and healthy feet.