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The importance of properly fitting shoes for kids

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Parents and caregivers with young children know just how quickly their little ones outgrow clothes and shoes, but it may come as a surprise that nearly two-thirds of American children are wearing shoes that are too small. According to a 2020 study, of those children wearing too-small shoes, 48 percent had shoes one size too small, and 19 percent were wearing shoes that were two sizes too small. While frequent shoe shopping for your child may seem like a hassle, it’s especially important for little feet to have properly fitting shoes.

Why must my child’s shoes fit properly?

While it’s important for all people to have properly fitting shoes for a variety of reasons, it’s especially important for children. Children’s feet are made up of soft, pliable cartilage that doesn’t fully ossify, or turn into bone, until the later teenage years. Too-small or too-tight shoes as a baby grows into a toddler and beyond can impact long term bone growth and development of the feet.

What problems are associated with poorly fitted shoes on a child?

Shoes that are too small can wreak havoc on your child’s feet. Minor discomforts like blisters might not seem too bad, but ingrown toenails, hammertoes, calluses, corns, and bunions can be painful and more complex. One of the more serious foot deformities that can be caused by improperly fitting shoes is called hallux valgus, and it happens when the big toe begins to angle inward, causing a swollen lump just under the big toe. When your child’s feet are causing pain, it’s also likely to distract from their day-to-day life in school and can hinder athletic performance.

How can parents and caregivers ensure a proper fit?

Parents and caregivers should first consider the age and developmental stage of their child when choosing appropriate footwear. For infants who aren’t yet walking, only soft booties or socks are recommended, as tight shoes can hinder a baby’s ability to stretch and explore their surroundings with their feet. For toddlers, going barefoot while indoors at home is recommended for optimal foot development. When toddlers are outdoors, parents should opt for lightweight shoes with flexible soles. For young children, parents should be in search of supportive footwear with a snug fit in the middle and heel but with room around the toes.

When shoe shopping, be sure to have your child’s foot measured and purchase a shoe size that goes off measurement of the longest foot. Often, young children will have as much as half an inch difference in the length of their feet. Make sure your child can move their toes freely in the toe box of the shoe and check to see that there is a one-to-two-centimeter space, or about a thumb’s width, between the longest toe and front of the shoe. Lastly, avoid the urge to buy bigger shoes knowing they’ll grow into them at some point. Shoes that are too large make children prone to falls.

There are endless shoe options available for children, but it’s important for parents to remember that they should always choose fit and function over fashion when it comes to their child’s footwear. For more information on childhood foot development, visit or the American Podiatric Medical Association online at

By ABC Quality Team on September 13, 2022