Cinderella was a lucky gal. Her fairy godmother made sure the party slippers would fit nobody but her precious protégée’s dainty feet. For many parents, choosing children’s shoes is hit-or-miss. Though it doesn’t sound like rocket science, it’s much trickier than it sounds. Sure, the fashion aspect needs to be considered from the early walking days on. Why forgo bling, purple and lights when you can have’em? However most importantly, children need to wear the right shoes for their foot development and their daily activities. From city streets to athletic tracks, here are a few tips to help you pick shoes for happy feet.

Why It Matters
At birth, newborns are born with soft and flexible feet loaded with fat. As they grow and become physically active, children’s feet lose their fat and their bones expand and get into position. To prevent foot deformities and allow for healthy foot development, shoes should be chosen carefully. After all, your child’s feet are going to walk thousands of miles over a lifetime – they gotta be pampered! Hence the importance of spending some time and money on getting the right shoe for your child’s feet.

How To Measure Children Feet
The first question when you’re buying kids’ shoes is what size you need. To add some spice to your parenting life, shoe sizes tend to vary by brand and shoe manufacturers all use their own sizing charts, sometimes with inconsistent fits between models. Your best bet is to go to a specialized shoe store and have a shoe clerk measure your child’s feet.
If you want a quick answer on size and need a rough guide to get started (say, you’re buying online), print out this foot sizing chart and follow the instructions at home but remember what the shoe salespeople say. When being measured, children should be standing up, wear socks or tights (as they usually do), and put their full weight on their feet. Now as far as the “right” size, children should have half an inch to three quarters of an inch of growth room in their shoes.

At the store, do the “thumb test” to know if the shoe fits by pressing the side of your thumb between the toe of the shoe and your child’s big toe while your child is standing. You should be able to fit your thumb within the space, that’s almost half an inch. If you can’t, the shoe is too small. If it’s more than your thumb, the shoe is too big. Alas, it’s not always easy to tell if you’re feeling your kids’ toe at the toe end. A Red Tricycle mom’s tip is to tell the kids to scoot their foot as far forward as possible and see if she can fit a finger (or two) at the heel. Two fingers mean a size down; one finger means about right and can’t fit one means going up to the next size.

How Often and When To Buy Shoes
As crazy as it sounds, children’s shoes need to be replaced every few month to allow for foot growth. Sometimes children grow an entire shoe size in one month and before you know it, toes start poking out of socks and you’ve got a shoe-hunting trip in your future. Don’t wait until your child’s feet grow curved nails to realize they need new Crocs! Plan a monthly shoe check to be on top of the right shoe size in your children’s cupboards.
When you decide to go on your shoe-shopping trip, plan it towards the end of the day. Feet swell during the day as they do during exercise and (particularly if you’re buying athletic shoes) you’ll want to buy shoes that aren’t too tight after a long day out.

What To Look For in Shoes
Many people will argue that the best shoes are no shoes at all. In a perfect grassy world that might be true but outside of your home and to keep feet safe and warm, shoes are a necessity. The American Podiatrist Medical Association recommends that children’s shoes should be comfortable right away – no break-in period, accommodate the larger foot – since both feet are rarely identical, that they be light, and that they be breathable to prevent sweat and fungi – natural materials preferred. That results in soft shoes for beginning walkers (not the rigid stuff our parents wore) and shoes with good heel support, a rigid middle that won’t twist and reasonably bendable toe areas for older children.

For parents of active kids, durability is the key word. Kids play and run and shoes need to be tough enough to hold up to rough love. It’s better to select one pair of good shoes that won’t fall apart too fast rather than several so-so pairs. It’s also easier to buy shoes with Velcro than shoe laces (hello, independence!) as kids don’t need any help putting them on or removing them.

Athletic shoes are yet another world as nothing resembles a running shoe more than another running shoe but they’re all different! Whatever sport your child will be doing, you need to get shoes for that sport in particular and wear that sport’s socks when you buy the shoes. For instance, running shoes are designed for forward movement and have extra cushioning while tennis and basketball shoes are meant to support side-to-side motion as well as forward and backward. Baseball, football or soccer shoes are spiked, studded or cleated while hiking boots and winter shoes provide ankle support to prevent twisted ankles. Your child’s coach will generally provide the best advice, knowing the type of training and surface they’ll be practicing.

What Brands?
We polled parents on their favorite brands and Red Tricycle parents swear by Crocs, Merrell, Tsukihoshi, StrideRite, Keen Footwear, Livie and Luca, Primo or Pedipeds.

Where To Buy Shoes
The best way is always in person so your child can try the shoes directly. Since brand sizes are inconsistent, you’ll find it worthwhile to find a good store with a good return/exchange policy when you need to stock up.

If shopping online, you may want to do the conservative thing. Order a staggering amount of shoe sizes on or, have your kids try them at home and return the wrong sizes. It’ll be a tad more time consuming at home but you’re saving a trip to the store.

Second-Hand Shoes – Yay or Nay?
Hand-me downs and thrift store shoes are budget-friendly shoe options, especially if you’re looking at fancy shoes that are rarely worn or are budget-friendly, but are they A-OK by your shoe book? First, turn the shoe upside down and check the heels and soles. If they are unevenly worn, the previous shoe owner had shoe issues and you don’t want on your child’s feet. Second, check the surface and inside of the toe box for uneven wear. If all looks good and the shoe feels comfortable, go ahead!

Now, who says picking shoes is as easy as a pop quiz?

What are your tips for buying kids’ shoes? Got any special tricks to share with other mommas out there?

— Laure Latham

photo credit: herval via flickr, guy schmidt via flickr, Johan Larsson via flickr