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Picking the right school shoes for your kid

Kim Grundy is a mom, writer, expert laundry folder and sandwich maker, not necessarily in that order. Raised in Oklahoma, she is now a West Coast gal and lives in California with her husband and two sons, along with one dog, two fish (oo...

how to find the right shoes

You have bought the new backpack, school supplies and lunch box — and now it is time to tackle back-to-school shoe shopping! Let us help mark this off your to-do list.

We chatted with doctors who share tips for every age and activity level so you can buy the right shoes for your kids.

Back-to-school means heading to the shoe store to buy some cool new pumped-up kicks for your kids. Many of today’s kid’s shoes are built with their active lifestyles in mind, but make sure you keep the following tips in mind to avoid wasting money on the wrong types of shoes.

Tips for buying kid's shoes that fit

Start your shoe search at a store that has a salesperson that can correctly measure your child’s foot size. For younger kids, it is important to make sure that there is plenty of room for the toes.

“Parents should look for shoes that are supportive and feature rounded toe boxes to give the toes more room for movement [which aligns] the feet properly for optimal foot health,” says Phil Vasyli, leading Australian podiatrist and founder of good-for-you shoe brands Vionic, Orthaheel and Dr. Andrew Weil Integrative Footwear.

Most of us will find that one foot is slightly larger than the other, so make sure your child tries on both shoes and that you buy the shoes that fit the bigger foot.

Bring a pair of socks and have your child stand up with both shoes on. A good fitting rule to go on is that there should be about 1/2 inch of space (about the size of the tip of your index finger) between the longest toe (which is either the big toe or second toe) and the front of the shoe.

Dr. Sonu Ahluwalia, M.D., clinical chief of orthopedic surgery at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, tells SheKnows that parents must also consider the width of the shoe.

“Kids' feet tend to be wider when they are younger, and as the foot grows, the length proportionately catches up to the width. So you want a shoe to accommodate a wider foot, and you need it to not be too restrictive or too tight through the arch,” he says.

Dr. Ahluwalia says that children’s shoes do not need to be broken in and they should be comfortable from the start. Have your child walk around to make sure the shoes feel good on their feet. “Make sure that they fit well from the start with adequate room to accommodate the foot, not only in length but also in width,” he says.

Lastly, use this tip to keep the foot odor at bay. “Seek shoes that are breathable, as the active feet of children are prone to perspiration,” says Vasyli. “Canvas or leather shoes allow the foot to breathe, and it’s best to avoid man-made materials such as plastic.“

How often should you buy new shoes for kids?

Little girl with new shoes

When should you buy new shoes for your child? “Feet should be measured monthly the first year, every two months between the ages of 12 months and 24 months, every three months from 24 to 36 months and every six months thereafter,” says Dr. Ahluwalia.

If your child’s shoe looks or feels tight or has lost some of its arch support, it’s time for a new pair of shoes. If your child has a growth spurt, you may find yourself buying shoes more frequently.

“Since the older child's feet are not growing as rapidly, the shoe construct needs to be good enough to last the six months or longer that the child may use it for,” he says.

You also must take into account the activity level of the child, for example if they walk to school or use their shoes for after-school activities you may have to buy new shoes at least every six months.

What about slip-on shoes? Or Velcro shoes?

“Slip-ons can be a great shoe option for children, provided that they meet the requirements in regards to breathability, support and proper fit,” says Vasyli.

Consider buying your child a pair of slip-on shoes, such as Vans slip-on shoes, but just make sure he or she also has a good pair of athletic shoes with laces as well, especially for gym class or an after-school sports event. If you are only buying one pair of shoes, athletic shoes with laces are the best bet because they give the foot more stability because they don’t stretch out as slip-on shoes tend to.

Athletic shoes with Velcro (instead of laces) are a good option for younger kids who want to put shoes on themselves without waiting for you to tie them.

Most schools don’t allow flip-flops to be worn at school — and Vasyli said they are fine for short periods of time. “Parents should be aware that cheap flip-flops usually lack any kind of structure or support for the foot — not ideal shoes for children’s growing feet,” he said. “If flip-flops are the footwear of choice, it’s also important to choose pairs with strong yet flexible outsoles to protect the bottoms of children’s feet.”

Best shoes if your child has flat feet

“Most kids don't develop an arch till 16 months of age,” says Dr. Ahluwalia, saying that young children’s shoes typically don’t need arch support.

If your child nears kindergarten and the foot still looks flat when standing, you can consider using some arch supports for your child, such as Arch Angels Kid’s Arch Support Insoles.

These type of arch supports should work well for most children, but if your child complains of foot pain you can have your child evaluated for custom-made orthotics.

What about sport specific shoes?

Younger children will do fine wearing an athletic shoe with good support for a variety of sports and for gym class. As they get older, their needs will change and you will need to buy sport specific shoes, such as soccer cleats and baseball cleats.

“Younger kids typically just run around in their shoes. As kids grow, they may be involved in specific sports and these sports may require certain special shoes,” says Dr. Ahluwalia.

“Every sport by its nature has certain requirements of the footwear — for example, traction in track, stability in basketball and wear resistance in court sports. Talk to the coach to figure out what's best for your child. Remember though, a proper fit is still essential,” he says.

Girl versus boy shoes

Will your son have different shoe needs than your daughter? Possibly — it depends on their activity level.

“Most boys are rough and tough on their shoes, which means that you need to match that with the demand for durable shoes. Don't waste your money on stylish shoes for daily wear,” says Dr. Ahluwalia. “Also, the foot grows in proportion to the rest of the body which means that the shoes may get tighter quicker during the growth spurt which occurs earlier in girls than boys.

“Boys usually require a wider fitting than girls,“ adds Vasyli.

More about kids' shoes

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