As parents, you may wonder what is the best product or toy that will help your child meet their milestones or learn things quicker. I’m sure you’ve also wondered what type of shoe could be best for your new walker? There are so many shoes to choose from that will help make your child the most fashionable, but which one is going to be the best for the development of walking? There is not one right answer, but here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a shoe that will be right for your child.
As children learn how to walk, their foot plays a huge role in their stability, shock absorption and momentum. The bottom of their foot allows them to feel where they are in space. Therefore, the type of shoe that is worn can determine their walking pattern and stability. Should your child go barefoot, wear a flexible shoe, or stiff shoe?
Some research shows (see below) that the best foot development occurs when a child is barefoot, so the best shoe would follow the barefoot model, meaning that the shoe should be flexible. Going barefoot allows the foot to feel the texture of the floor and gives them good sensory feedback to let them know where they are in space. A flexible shoe (soft material with a soft sole that allows for bending) can also allow for more sensory feedback, similar to going barefoot. However, a stiffer shoe can lead to greater stability compared to a very flexible shoe. It was seen that children keep their foot on the ground for a longer period of time when wearing stiffer shoes, possibly because they are not getting as much input and need that time to understand the environment that they are in. So if your child seems to be a little more unstable, a stiffer shoe may be best for them.
Depending on what type of shoe you decide to put your child in, they typically will adapt to it and change their walking pattern (amount of time they keep their foot on the floor, width of their feet, and speed of walking). Children are fast learners and are ‘flexible’ to any changes that come their way. As therapists, we are always trying to promote adaptability; so changing the type of shoes that they walk in can be a great way to teach them how to experience a new situation. As mentioned before, there is not one perfect shoe for all children and the need for flexibility vs. stability may need to discussed further depending on your child’s needs.
Keep in mind that the articles referred to focused on children who are developing motor skills typically, therefore, the amount of stability or flexibility may depend on the individual need of your child.
Buckland MA, Slevin CM, Hafer JF, Choate C, Kraszewski AP. The effect of torsional shoe flexibility on gait and stability in children learning to walk. Pediatr Phys ther. 2014; 26: 411-417.
Staheli L. Shoes for children: a review. Pediatrics. 1991;88:371