Want the Best Shoes for Your Kids? 5 Expert Tips for Back-To-School Shopping

Want the Best Shoes for Your Kids? 5 Expert Tips for Back-To-School Shopping

Author: Dr. Michael Ryan
Director of R&D, Kintec
BHK, MSc, PhD, Certified Pedorthist
Adjunct Professor, SFU, BPK Dept

You don’t need an expert to tell you how fast your kids (and their feet) grow! In fact, it’s not unusual for children’s feet to grow up to two sizes in one year. No wonder parents feel like they’re always shopping for new shoes.

With the added pressure of so many brands and features, it can be difficult to determine which shoes are best for your kids.

Kid’s Growing Feet are Different Than Yours—Their Shoes Should be Too

For starters, it helps to understand that your kid’s feet aren’t just miniature versions of yours. During the infant and early-childhood years, bones in the feet are not yet calcified (hardened like adult bone), and ligaments and joints are much more flexibile. As a result, children’s feet are more agile, and when they stand, their feet often appear flatter than an adult’s.

As children grow and become more active, their bones harden, ligaments tighten, and muscles strengthen, increasing the relative height of their arches. Most pediatric specialists agree that children’s feet mature between the ages of 13 and 16.

To find the perfect fit at every stage of your child’s development, we’ll help you find a shoe that not only fits and feels good but also matches their activities, prevents injury, promotes healthy development, and helps them stay active on their feet, for life.

5 Expert Tips for Back-To-School Shopping

TIP #1: Less is More

Research increasingly shows that for healthy development, children’s shoes should support the natural movement of the foot. This means a more flexible shoe is best (compared to a stiffer, more structured shoe that hinders natural movement).

Shoes that are more flexible, and allow for the natural movement of the foot, support the development of higher arched feet (healthy arch heights) and larger foot muscles, and reduce the risk of experiencing foot pain.

Studies also show that when kids walk on different surfaces and uneven terrain, it actually helps strengthen their small foot muscles. The best shoes have features that protect the skin under foot, rather than limit natural movement.

For back to school shopping, remember protection is important but not at the expense of flexibility.

TIP #2: Cramped Toes Can Cause Big (Bunion) Problems

Further proof that mom and grandma are not the only ones to blame for bunions!

Toes need room to wiggle and move inside a shoe, and not just for comfort. When a shoe is too short, children’s toes get cramped and flexed within the toe box of the shoe, which can impact the positioning and development of the big toe.

In a study of 858 school children, the majority were wearing indoor shoes that were two sizes too small, which increased the risk of bunion development. The research showed that the smaller the shoe, the greater the risk of bunions, for example, if your child is wearing a shoe that is two sizes too small their risk of bunion development is 37%!

For the perfect fit, see a Kintec Fit Expert for accurate measurements and proper footwear sizing for your child.

TIP #3: Bigger is Not Better

Kids feet grow so fast, parents may be tempted to buy shoes that are too big so they can “grow into them.” Big shoes are not only a tripping hazard, but can also cause pain, discomfort, and increase risk of future problems.

The best shoes are specifically designed with a flex point that aligns with the natural flex point of your child’s foot when they walk. When a shoe is too big, the flex point will be in the wrong spot, forcing the foot to bend at an unnatural point.

For the perfect fit, there should be about half the width of your thumbnail from the end of their longest toe to the end of the shoe. If your children’s feet aren’t the same size, buy shoes to accommodate the bigger of the two.

TIP #4: “Breaking-In” is Bad

Shoes should feel comfortable the first time your child tries them on. Don’t allow for a “break-in period” or expect shoes to get more comfortable over time. The best shoes for your kids are the ones that feel good, fit right, match their activities, and support the healthy development of their feet.

Keep in mind: Kids don’t always know how to describe specific pain points or discomfort, so it’s important to see a Fit Expert who can help fit them properly each time they get a new pair of shoes.

TIP #5: Injured Feet Need Special Attention

If your children suffer from foot aches, pains or injury, specialized footwear can reduce pain and help your child heal and return to their daily activities.

Calcaneal apophysitis, also known as Sever’s disease, commonly occurs between the ages of 8 and 15. Microtrauma and repetitive stress to the growth plate leads to inflammation and discomfort, specifically where the Achilles tendon inserts into the heel. Your child’s shoe can help reduce trauma by absorbing the contact forces during running and jumping activities. Research suggests that one year post-diagnosis, footwear, heel lifts, and custom orthotics are all effective treatments for children with clinically diagnosed calcaneal apophysitis.

For children diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), footwear can help reduce inflammation, pain, and improve mobility during everyday activities. 30-50% of children diagnosed with JIA experience persistent inflammation into adulthood. Arthritic flare ups can cause joint pain, stiffness and inflammation. Proper footwear and custom orthotics have been shown to reduce pain and improve function, thus helping your kids stay active on their feet.

If your child is complaining of foot or heel pain, we recommend an assessment with one of our Canadian Certified Pedorthists.

WATCH: More Tips for Back-To-School Shoe Shopping (1:48)


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Klein C, Groll-Knapp E, Kundi M, Kinz W. Increased hallux angle in children and its association with insufficient length of footwear: a community based cross-sectional studyBMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2009;10:159. Published 2009 Dec 17. doi:10.1186/1471-2474-10-159.
James AM, Williams CM, Haines TP. Heel raises versus prefabricated orthoses in the treatment of posterior heel pain associated with calcaneal apophysitis (Sever’s Disease): a randomised control trial. Jounral of Foot and Ankle Research. 2010;3:3. Published 2010 Mar 2. doi:10.1186/1757-1146-3-3.
Hollander K, de Villiers JE, Sehner S, et al. Growing-up (habitually) barefoot influences the development of foot and arch morphology in children and adolescents. Scientific Reports. 2017;7(1):8079. Published 2017 Aug 14. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-07868-4


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