The foot of a newborn baby is composed mainly of soft cartilage, most of which gradually turns to bone as the child grows, usually hardening fully by the age of 18. Toddlers can begin wearing shoes when they have been walking for a few weeks, and are able to proceed under their own steam outside the home.
Even then, experts recommend that going barefoot is best, as long as it is safe to do so.
The bare sole gives toddlers a better sense of the ground, so they are less likely to feel a need to look down, which often puts them off balance. It also helps develop the muscles and ligaments of the foot, as well as good posture.
When children are ready to put on their first pair of shoes, PhysioMotion podiatrist Alexandra Duff says parents should make sure the shoes are the right length, width and depth. She also recommends shoes with natural material for the uppers for breathability, and fasteners for ease of wear.
"For first walkers, ensure that the toe box is rounded, the ankle cuff padded and the sides of the shoe curved to mimic the babies foot. For school shoes, they need to be harder wearing, with a good stiffer heel and a heel height of not more than 4cm."
Parents should also make sure the foot stays clean and dry. The UK Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists recommends washing a child's feet daily with simple soap and water, making sure to dry the area between the toes thoroughly. A sprinkling of talcum powder also works well for this. And if possible, try not to put your child in the same pair of shoes every day. Alternating shoes allows them to dry out after a day of housing sweaty feet.
While most youngsters (and parents) prefer stylish footwear, there are limits to just how fashionable children's shoes can get. Celebrities Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' daughter Suri was spotted in heels when she was just five years old, but experts point out that's a big no-no.
"During the first few years of growth, a child's foot is particularly vulnerable to injury or deformity from restrictive heeled shoes," warns podiatrist Dr Victor Wong.
Children are often running and playing, and that makes heeled shoes all the more unsuitable, says orthopaedic specialist Raymond Ng, who founded the Dr Kong shoe chain. He recommends waiting until the mid-teens before putting on any high heels.
"By the time they are 14, the bone has hardened substantially. For fun, or for short periods of time, it can be acceptable, but the heel should still not be over three inches."
Below, podiatrist Duff offers some useful shoe tips.
- Measure your child's feet regularly
"Children's feet need to be measured about every eight weeks by a trained shoe fitter, but you may need to do this more frequently if you are aware of a growth spurt. On average, a child's foot will grow two sizes per year in the first four years, and then one size per year until growth is complete. A child's foot may not grow for a period of time, and then grow several sizes quickly."
- Don't buy one size up
"Children's feet are not the same shape as adult feet, they are triangular in appearance, with a narrow heel and a wide forefoot. If shoes are too large, the heel could slip out, or the foot could slide into the front of the shoe, causing the toes to become crushed, or rubbing/blistering of the skin. Poorly fitting footwear can lead to positional problems of the big toe later in life."
- Avoid second-hand shoes
"Hand-me-downs are not ideal, as the shoe has been moulded by the feet of the person before. As children's feet are so mouldable, the feet will mould to the shape of the previous owners."