Two words most of us love to hear? Shoe shopping! But it's quite a different story when you're buying footwear for your antsy 1-year-old. Most of the time you'll be hard-pressed to get her to try on a pair without wiggling out of your lap or having a kicking-and-screaming tantrum.
And even if you can get them on her feet without a fuss, it can be tricky to figure out whether they're actually the right size. "A toddler can't use words to tell you that she doesn't like the way something feels," says Ross Taubman, M.D., a podiatrist in Clarksville, Maryland. "To make matters worse, it's really important to find shoes that fit properly when she's learning to walk--otherwise, she could stumble more and take longer to develop the skill."
The good news is we have your toddler's tootsies covered. Follow these foot notes to find a pair that's a good fit for your child in every way.
You can put off buying shoes until after your child starts to walk (usually between 10 and 18 months). They're only for show before then, and your kid will be able to practice taking steps better when he's barefoot. (Shoes make it harder to grip the ground and learn to balance.) For the first couple of pairs, go to an actual shoe store where you can find trained staffers who know how to measure the length and width of your kid's foot. And wait until afternoon to make the trip because most kids' feet will swell during the day.
Pick brands that are made specifically for toddlers. "Good shoes for little walkers are somewhat flexible and made of lightweight materials, such as leather or high-quality mesh," says Ron Raducanu, D.P.M., president of the American College of Foot and Ankle Pediatrics. To check the fit, insert your pinkie into the heel (your finger should fit snugly) and into the point where the shoe meets the ankle (to rule out stitching that could cause blisters). Then, feel the shoe's tip while your child's standing to make sure there's about half an inch of space between the big toe and the tip.
Two features you don't have to worry about are arch and ankle support. Flat feet are normal for toddlers whose arches are still developing. Plus, your kid's ankles need to be free to build muscle and prevent injuries. "We don't recommend high-top shoes anymore because we found out there's more risk for ankle injuries when toddlers fall in these types of shoes," says Larissa Isterabadi, M.D., a pediatrician in Yorba Linda, California.
Once you find a shoe that you think fits well, have your kid toddle around in the store. Watch for a loose, slipping heel when he walks and any red marks on his feet after you take the shoes off.
Toddlers' feet grow rapidly, often sizing up every two to three months. "If your kid has been happily wearing the shoes for months and suddenly starts taking them off, hobbling around, or rubbing her feet, those are late signs that she's ready for a new pair," says Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D., author of Mommy Calls.
Kids' shoes can be pricey, especially since you have to replace them every couple of months. But resist the urge to give your child hand-me-down shoes while she's still trying to master motor skills (walking, running, and jumping). A new shoe will better adapt to your toddler's growing and developing foot," says Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D., author of Mommy Calls. No two feet are the same, and buying something new ensures that the inside isn't molded to someone else's foot.
Originally published in Parents magazine.