Going barefoot is best for toddlers, research and experts suggest. Once your toddler is walking, however, they need protective yet flexible footwear when out and about. Learn what to look for in toddler shoes from Lovevery’s pediatric occupational therapist, Rachel Coley.
Checklist for the best toddler shoes
- Flexible, non-skid soles. Sneakers with nonskid soles enable your child to grip the floor when walking and can prevent falls. Soles also need to be flexible to allow for more natural foot movement. To gauge flexibility, see if you can fold the shoe in half so the toe and heel touch.
- A rounded, wide toe box. The ideal shoe has plenty of space for your child’s toes to spread out because that is how they learn to balance.
- Velcro or straps Since your toddler’s foot will grow longer and lose fat over time,adjustable straps can help ensure a good fit.
- A flexible, supportive heel cup. To test this, pinch the heel cup—it should be firm but have some give.
- Minimal bulk. Lightweight shoes are best for toddlers just building the strength and endurance for walking.
How to get the right shoe fit
Your child will outgrow their shoes quickly in their 2nd year, so try to check the fit about once a month. While your toddler is standing, press down on the front of the shoe. There should be about a finger-width distance between your child’s longest toe and the inside edge of the shoe while standing.
A few pediatric OT-recommended shoe brands for toddlers
While not an exhaustive list, these toddler shoes “check all the boxes,” says Coley:
- Stride Rite Soft Motion shoes
- Momo Baby rubber sole sneakers
- Pediped Grip ’n’ Go shoes
- See Kai Run First Walker shoes
Note: This list is not intended to be an endorsement of any particular product; Lovevery does not receive payment of any kind from the brands listed in this post.
What if my child has special physical needs?
Toddlers with identified gross motor challenges, low muscle tone, or joint hypermobility may benefit from more supportive shoes, says Coley. “If your child is in the care of a physical therapist, consult directly with them regarding the best shoes for your toddler.”
Learn more about the research
Staheli, L. T. (1991). Shoes for children: a review. Pediatrics, 88(2), 371-375.
Wegener, C., Hunt, A. E., Vanwanseele, B., Burns, J., & Smith, R. M. (2011). Effect of children’s shoes on gait: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, 4(1), 1-13.
Wolf, S., Simon, J., Patikas, D., Schuster, W., Armbrust, P., & Döderlein, L. (2008). Foot motion in children shoes—a comparison of barefoot walking with shod walking in conventional and flexible shoes. Gait & Posture, 27(1), 51-59.
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