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Are you ruining your child’s feet?

Hand-me-down shoes may make sense when your toddler needs new kicks every few months, but this is actually the worst time to buy secondhand. Find out if your shoe choices are ruining your child’s feet for life.

Protect those chubby feet and adorable piggies by outfitting your child with shoes that fit properly. Here’s how.

Avoid secondhand shoes for toddlers

One pair of plump feet is not exactly like another toddler’s pair of growing feet. So tread carefully if you’re buying or accepting secondhand shoes. “Seventy percent of foot problems come from wearing the wrong footwear or ill-fitting shoes,” says Angela Edgeworth, president and co-founder of pediped footwear. “Used shoes have already molded to the foot, and wearing hand-me-downs can affect the shape of your child’s foot.”

Hand-me-down special-occasion shoes are likely fine — after all, your child will have them on for no more than a few hours at most, then never wear them again. But the shoes they will be toddling in, running in, walking in and just plain living in must have their footprint all over them.

With 22 partially developed bones in each small foot at birth, “The critical foot development years happen from infancy and into the toddler years,” explains Edgeworth. But a child’s feet actually continue to develop until they’re about 18 years old!

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Promoting healthy foot development

Going barefoot is one of the best ways for your child to learn to walk properly. When the weather or circumstances don’t allow for this freedom, soft-sole shoes are the next best thing. “Soft, flexible shoes allow a child’s gait to develop naturally,” says Edgeworth. “Going barefoot or wearing soft soles also help the foot grow normally and develop its musculature and strength, as well as the grasping action of the toes.”

While it may seem that hard, stiff shoes would provide a steadier foundation for your toddler, the opposite is true. Shoes that are too rigid or tight can change the shape of your child’s feet or alter the child’s stride as they have to lift their feet to move.

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Proper fit tips for toddler shoes

Keep in mind a number of things when purchasing shoes for toddlers with these tips from Edgeworth:

  • Avoid shoes constructed with man-made materials like plastic: They can cause odor or even bacteria growth. Buy shoes made of a breathable material like leather or canvas.
  • Buy shoes with a fully adjustable fastening for a snug fit and a roomy toe box that gives plenty of room for toes to move.
  • New shoes should never need to be “broken in.” It means they were either not properly designed or not properly fitted for your child’s foot.
  • Shoes should have a smooth bottom, causing less friction so the shoe won’t grab the floor and possibly cause your child to fall.
  • Flex the ball of the shoe to make sure it bends easily.

And remember — a child’s feet grow in spurts, and they grow quickly. Your toddler likely needs new shoes every three to four months. Be diligent about checking the fit on your little one’s kicks to make sure they’re comfy.

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