Little feet grow very quickly. When babies are in the womb, they are already developing muscles and co-ordination, which serve as building blocks for future skills. Until the age of two, toddlers are flat-footed, as their bones, muscles and ligaments are not yet developed. At this stage, barefoot toddling and wobbling should be encouraged to improve their balance, posture and co-ordination.

Babies feet begin with 22 partially developed bones, padded with fat, which can easily be cramped and damaged by tight shoes or socks. When children start to take their first steps between ages of ten to eighteen months, going barefoot is still the best option to develop strength using the ‘grasping’ stabilising action of the toes. Their feet still appear flat at this stage as the arch of the foot only begins to develop from the age of two.

Toddlers begin to show an interest in helping to dress themselves at around 12 months old. At roughly two years old they can also remove their shoes and socks and put them back on (with a little more difficulty). Encouraging a child to do this independently can help to boost their confidence, their high level thinking and promote patience. At this stage, choosing appropriate footwear for the developing foot is crucial. Measuring children’s feet is important, and making it a ‘foot fun’ activity can encourage learning. Choosing shoes that are wide enough, deep enough to allow toe wiggle and that are also flexible and comfortable are all crucial.

At school age, the child’s foot takes on a more mature, adult like shape, and is more dexterous and defined. These young feet need to have protection from the impact of hard surfaces, but their feet are, of course, still developing. Choice of footwear needs to follow the same rules of width, depth, flexibility and be lightweight, as well as cope with the demands of the everyday life of each child. The style of the shoe is important too. Velcro, laces and buckles all serve to prevent the developing foot slipping forward and squashing toes. Poorly fitting, hard shoes can hinder a child’s normal growth and comfort. Most children are energetic and active and, often, they are unable to feel pain or relate it until the damage is done. As podiatrists, we often see the results of inappropriate footwear and this, unfortunately, can contribute to deformities, weakness and loss of mobility in later life too.

𝐵𝑦 𝐺𝑎𝑦𝑛𝑜𝑟 𝑊𝑜𝑜𝑙𝑟𝑖𝑑𝑔𝑒

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