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We all want comfortable happy feet to carry our weight and keep us moving in comfort.

Feet are remarkable and complex anatomical structures. Each foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. We need happy feet for walking, running and jumping.

Children’s feet

Children’s feet differ from adults as they are still developing and are especially vulnerable to the elements and need protection. However, the flip side is that shoes may actually hamper the normal development of a young child’s foot. The bones in a baby’s foot are soft and will only harden around the five-year-old mark. Going barefoot can result in happy feet, contribute to developing balance and good posture.

Baby steps

To ensure a lifetime of happy feet, the Podiatry Association of South Africa advises parents to get their child’s first pair of shoes when they start to walk, not before. Bare feet or socks with rubber grips are adequate until your baby takes his first steps. Your child’s first shoe should only be used to protect their feet from rough or wet surfaces. When children are learning to walk, they should be barefoot as much as possible.

What to look for in your toddler’s first shoe?

Podiatrists tend to agree that a child’s first pair of shoes should be as light and soft as possible. Flexibility is crucial; test by bending the shoe in half and twisting it.

The shoe should give the sole of the foot grip, but should in no way restrict the natural movement and growth of the foot. Try to get shoes made of leather or fabric that allows the foot to breathe naturally. As a child gets older, takkies or trainers are a good idea. Those that fasten with Velcro make doing them up much easier for parents.

Find out more about choosing the right fitting school shoe.

The right fit

The Podiatry Association of South Africa stresses the importance of buying shoes that fit correctly. According to foot experts, no shoe should be “broken in” as this means the shoe is  poorly designed or poorly fitting. Look for a shoe with a round toe box to give the toes more room. And there should be a thumb’s width between the end of the shoe and the end of the longest toe. When their toe approaches the end, it’s time for a new pair.

Bigger steps

When children start school, wearing shoes is usually compulsory, however there are some innovative “barefoot shoes” on the market for children, including some that are designed especially for learners who are required to wear black or brown shoes as part of their school uniform.

Sporting chance

Shoes for specific sports can have a big impact on performance levels. As they get older and participate in sports such as tennis, hockey, rugby, soccer or cricket, shoes become very important for protection and performance. But young children should be barefoot for sport.

Tips for parents

  • Inspect your child’s feet regularly.
  • Allow your baby to kick freely so that normal development can occur.
  • Do not force your child to walk – the average walking age is 10–18 months.\
  • Encourage barefoot walking on suitable surfaces (sand, grass, carpets) to stimulate muscle activity and development.
  • Shoe and sock sizes should be adjusted as their feet grow.
  • Any complaint should be taken seriously.

Marc de Chazal