Did you know that children’s feet and clay are alike? Both begin their journey soft and flexible but as time passes these impressionable surfaces are worked and slowly change to form a mature structure capable of withstanding the forces that come their way.

Disney inspired and rainbow coloured with lights that illuminate their pathway, toddlers’ shoes are without a doubt as cute as a button. But are these cute fashion items causing a deeper problem than we realize? When toddlers begin to take their first steps the need to protect their cushioned feet against harmful surfaces and sharp objects increases, and therefore shoes become a more prominent feature in their daily lives. However, research has recommended that shoes only be worn in necessary situations.

Things you need to know

Feet were designed to contain pressure points and many nerve endings that are responsible for delivering information to the brain with regards to the surface on which they are walking. This includes the temperature, whether the surface is smooth or rough, hard or soft and even if it is inclined to one side more than the other. What is even more incredible is that this information is conveyed without us being aware of the surface we are walking on as the soles of our feet have more nerve-endings than any other body part per square centimeter. While keeping this in mind, let’s discuss the positive outcomes of promoting barefoot walking.

Strengthen their joints and muscles

When children are allowed to let those squishy, little jelly feet loose this contributes to the strengthening of their joints and muscles as their arches are allowed to develop optimally and this in turn refines the alignment of their leg muscles. Not only does walking barefoot improve balance, posture and proprioception, but it also strengthens a child’s feet and allows them to grip a surface with greater ease. As feet are sensitive to what they come into contact with, children are given a greater sensory opportunity when they are barefoot, feeling different textures and temperatures. These interactions between feet and surfaces increase the strength of messages sent to the brain.

What should I do, put shoes on or go barefoot?

Being barefoot is the first choice, however, it’s not easy to resist all the beautiful and sweet shoes created for children. As Kinderkineticists and specialists in the area of gross motor development, we have noticed the impact that an incorrect shoe can have on motor skills and it has become increasingly more concerning. We have specifically seen an increase in the number of children wearing hard soled and inflexible gumboots which have led to their walking capabilities being hindered. These boots, although perfect for rainy weather, not only prevent the feet from moving through the full motion when walking but also result in a wider gait, an increased risk of falling and weaker foot muscles. Shoes such as these should especially be avoided when a toddler is beginning to walk as the rigidity of the boot contributes to a loss of balance.

Simple developmental prevention techniques

To prevent developmental complications in the future, here are a few recommendations to keep in mind when shopping for shoes.

  1. Possible falling can be caused by slipping, and therefore aim to buy a shoe with a rubber sole that grips the surface as they walk.
  2. Alongside this, try to choose a shoe with a soft and flexible sole as this allows their foot to move through the natural heel-to-toe movement which leads to the development of a normal walking pattern.
  3. A cushioned surface is also recommended to absorb the impact of forces and protect against possible sharp objects.
  4. Overall, allow children to walk the way it was intended: feet unconfined and little toes free to interact with the beautiful environment around them.

Conclusion

The sole purpose of feet is to help children perform large fundamental movements such as walking, running, jumping and hopping while keeping them upright and providing a soft landing when they need it. Let’s protect these sweet, squishy structures without harming their purpose and instead find an alternative that aids their function.

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