Shoes serve a variety of functions, some may be more obvious than others. When first buying shoes, parents often consider the potential for a shoe to provide warmth, protection, and look cute. However, shoes also help support a kiddo’s foot development!

For the first several months of life babies don’t really use their feet. Sure, they will grab them to stick them in their mouths or play with their toes, but their feet overall don’t get much exercise. Due to this lack of weight bearing, the structure of an infant’s foot is generally flat with no real definition. Once children start to spend more time on their feet, the forces that allow them to stand, move, and play will help the foot develop its muscles and ultimate boney structure. Children’s feet and legs will go through continuous shaping and realignment as they grow, develop muscle, and use their legs to move through their environment until they are fully set, around the age of 7. Prior to this time, shoes can act as a mold for your child’s foot; supporting and shaping it while they wear them.


When a child starts to consistently spend time on their feet!

Shoes aren’t really needed for muscle and arch development until a child starts spending more time upright. Until then, It is important to let your kiddo be barefoot to experience all the different textures on the bottom of their feet and figure out how their foot works when they are upright. At this point parents may be using shoes more as a fashion accessory or protection from the weather. Once they are pulling up to stand, trying to stand on their own, or taking a few steps, parents may want to consider shoes that have additional benefits for supporting a child’s weight. A good marker for when to have your kiddos wear these kind of shoes is when they are spending at least 50% of their day up on their feet.

When a child first starts standing, they will have flat feet and some pronation (the inside of their ankle dropping in and down). That is okay and is an expected part of normal development. As mentioned above, up until this point children really haven’t used or worked their feet so their muscles aren’t yet strong enough to keep the arch of the foot off the floor or keep the heel bone more upright. However, as they get better at standing on their own and eventually walking, you should start to notice their toes point more forward, their ankle is not falling in toward the middle, and the arch of their foot is no longer resting along the ground. Once your child is spending a good amount of time on their feet, putting them in the right kind of shoes can make a big difference in shaping their foot, improving their balance, and setting their little legs up for success as they grow. In addition, shoes will help protect your child’s feet when they start to walk around outside so they can safely navigate uneven ground like gravel, mulch, and dirt.

Which ones?

Unfortunately, a lot of shoemakers in the world don’t seem to understand that tiny humans need arch support too. A lot of shoes available for toddlers and young children are cute, but don’t provide sufficient support or structure that your kiddo needs. You want a shoe that has a stiff sole, if you can easily bend or twist a shoe in any direction it is not a good shoe for your child to wear. You also want to find a shoe that isn’t completely flat on the inside. If you run your finger along the sole on the inside you want to feel a little bump on the inside middle to support the arch of their foot. A shoe that is made of knit or rubber material usually shapes to the foot of the child, instead of providing shape for the foot to align too. A shoe that is made of tougher, more resistive fabric will help to provide stability and structure and will prevent a child’s foot from moving too much or too far in any direction.

Many people take their shoes off when inside the home.  But if your child has low muscle tone, is delayed in standing and/or walking, or has a tendency to go up on their toes when walking/standing, you should have them frequently wear a good set of shoes even when inside.  The shoes will provide increased support and stability to their foot and ankle that can help them progress along.

Below we have some more specific examples of shoes we would recommend and shoes to avoid. We do not receive any compensation from any of these companies. The list is mainly there to more clearly illustrate the points we’ve made above concerning shoes. Hopefully this helps to answer your questions about shoe purchases.

Shoes we like

New balance makes great shoes for kids. They have stiff supportive soles and shoe fabric. They also have a little arch support built into the shoe to help that foot develop. They also offer smaller size shoes then most companies so kiddos with tiny feet should still be able to find a pair that fits. 

Sketchers tend to have stiffer soles and supportive fabric. They don’t have great arch support but they aren’t usually totally flat inside. Shoes with laces are able to be tightened against their feet for the life of the shoe. Velcro tends to wear out fast and then the shoe will become loose on their feet.

Keens are a great sturdy sandal. The sole is stiff and has arch support built in. This is a great summer outdoor shoe.

Birkenstocks (or knock offs) come with more arch support overall. Some of the types will be made with a more flexible material but as long as they have arch support the flexibility is okay if you need a fun, cute, outdoor summer shoe.

High tops work well for kiddos who need a little extra support and stability (or those who just like the style). Avoid canvas based high top shoes and look for ones that are made of more sturdy material.

Hiking shoes are great. The shoes are made to be supportive and stabilizing for both adults and children. They have great arch support and the added bonus of being durable and sometimes water proof.

Shoes to avoid

Flip flops might be easy to slip on and easy to clean but they are a trip hazard and they don’t offer any support for foot alignment or stability.

Slide on rubber shoes are cute and easy to put on/clean but these shoes have no support or stiffness to them.

Nike runners (and most Nike brand shoes) makes very comfortable flexible shoes. However, they are too stretchy to support kids’ ankles or foot alignment and the sole of the shoe is super flexible and flat.

Canvas shoes do tend to have a stiffer sole, but they also tend to be very flat with no arch support.  These would not be the best for new walkers or older kiddos with flat feet.

Mixed feelings on cowboy (or girl) boots. While they do provide a stiffer sole and surrounding fabric to support the child’s foot, they don’t have any arch support and they are made to be longer than the foot (as part of the look) which makes it hard for the child to walk and safely clear their toes from the ground.