Buying Shoes for Kids – A Guide to Selecting the Proper Size Children’s Shoes by Master Shoe Fitter

As a twig is bent, so grows the tree. Ever hear that phrase? In a forest you can see lots of examples of this. Well, surprise! It applies to children’s feet as well! Parents need to understand that bones in children’s feet are soft and pliable. If a shoe fits badly or is too small, a child’s foot will adapt to it creating long-term problems such as hammer toes, extremely high arches, etc. To allow bones and muscles to form correctly, feet must be free – not “cramped.”

Case #1 . . . The Groom

I encountered a 24-year-old engaged couple looking for wedding shoes. As I measured the groom’s feet, I noticed his toes were arched up. The “Vamp” (area covering the toes) on most shoes wasn’t high enough to accommodate his toes, so he couldn’t fit comfortably in any stylish shoe. It took all my skill and experience to find good-looking shoes that would accommodate his toes.

When I asked him about his arched toes, he said his parents told him they had been like that since he was a toddler. If true, his toes were probably restricted by his baby booties and first baby shoes. This is serious, since he’ll have this deformity/affliction throughout life, created by loving parents who were ignorant (just unaware) of the following information when he was a baby.

Fitting Shoes on Children Comfortably

Here are thoughts that can assist parents purchase shoes for their child without making it a painful experience.

Did you know . . .

As your baby grows there is an amazing change in their feet? There are 3 main growth stages:

Infant (0 to 2-years-old) – Soft pliable feet, bones not yet connected and arches undeveloped. Feet are wide and appear flat-footed

Children (ages 3 to 7) – Soft and flexible feet with muscles and arches beginning to be developed. Feet begin to narrow.

Juniors (8-12) – Still very pressure sensitive as the feet narrow more, but not as much as an adult.

Obviously, as feet continually change shape, it is necessary to check the fit of shoes every couple of months.

You obviously realize . . .

It’s obvious when a toddler’s pants or shirts are too small. But, you can’t see inside a child’s shoes to make certain they have a good fit. Clothes are labeled 6-12 months, 18-24 months etc. make shopping for children’s clothes relatively easy.

To get the right size shoes, however, your fingers need to act like eyes; feeling 13 different places around the shoe to be certain it fits the child comfortably. Sadly, most parents use guesswork. Although I don’t sell children’s shoes regularly, I feel very strongly that trained professionals at shoe stores not only can measure and select more accurately, but actually make it a pleasant experience for the child.

Common sense areas you can check on the child’s shoe . . .

Children don’t understand how shoes should feel. Frankly, most would rather not have any! Children are unable to put into words (even if they knew) their true feelings about the comfort or discomfort of shoes. Add to that, they may be also intimidated by parents that are shocked at the prices, short-tempered and are just in a hurry to get the shoes.

I’ve written a complete guide on how to check shoes for fit on this website. You Can Have Comfortable Shoes – 13 Checkpoints for a Proper Fit – However, for brevity and to avoid redundancy, they are summarized below:

1- Is the shoe long enough? There should be about 1/2” – 5/8” space between the longest toe and the end of the shoe. This is NOT room to grow, but space to allow the toes to spread out, before the shoe narrows.

2- Push down on the “vamp” (front of the shoe). It should allow room and not be tight.

3- Does the back of the shoe rub against and irritate your child’s Achilles tendon? Try to slip the heel up and down. If it moves, it could cause a blister and the child will refuse to wear the shoe. This can be eliminated with installation of a tongue pad.

4- Does the outside or inside rub against the ankle on either side?

5- Squeeze the sides of the shoe making certain the width is wide enough. While squeezing the side of the foot, make certain you can feel the little toe against the side of the shoe. If you can’t, it means it is overlapping the 4th toe. This isn’t right.

6- The metatarsal bone (the big knob at the base of the big toe) should be at the point where the sole slopes to arch.

7- An “arch support” is important. Cheap shoes generally don’t have an arch support. If it does the shoe should be very soft like an athletic shoe.) A stiff dress shoe can rub against one or more of these ankle bones, causing your child significant pain.

8- A good firm “heel counter” (back of the shoe) helps lock the foot into the shoe and anchors it to the mid-sole, giving extra support. So, is it solid or floppy? Solid is good, especially if it is made of plastic. Cardboard (a slight denting when pressed, breaks down (if the shoe is not put on properly) and ruins the shoe.

Do this when trying on kid’s shoes . . .

When measuring and then trying on children’s shoes, make certain they are standing straight, then make certain the socks are pulled out, so the child’s toes are not constricted. Then you can get accurate measurements and fit for the shoe.


Case #2 . . . My youngest daughter

“Mom? My foot hurts.”

The dreaded words from our daughter. My wife thought, Oh no! Is it already time to buy her new shoes?

“Let me see your shoes.”

Inspecting the inside of the shoe, my wife discovered, stuck all the way up in the toe, a tiny baby doll’s dress that had been missing for months. Our daughter had been silently in pain all that time.

It’s a good idea to look at your child’s feet and inside their shoes. Watch for blisters, calluses and redness. There can be many things inside the shoe, including torn lining that create soreness of feet including blisters. People in the desert areas know to always look inside shoes before putting them on. This is because scorpions and spiders retreat in them and can sting your foot.

Case #3 . . . My Ingrown Toenail

I wasn’t a very good basketball player in high school, because I was always worried someone would step on my toes. The shoes that I had at one time were too short and I had developed an ingrown toenail on my big toe of each foot. Did I ever tell my parents about my ingrown toenails? No. I was afraid they’d take me to the doctor and he would “dig” it out (pain). Should I have? YES! I dug it out week after week on my own for years. Lesson: Consistently measure your kids feet – Even when they get older. You can really help them!

The one thing children wear out faster than shoes is . . . parents. – John J. Plomp

We had 4 active children, so know how much it costs to raise them. No one ever told us that kids are expensive. We had to prioritize our expenditures: solid quality shoes were a priority for my wife. (Thank Heaven for mothers!) We could get away spending less on clothes for example, to make the kids had the correct footwear. (There are numerous things most families invest in for their kids that aren’t – long-term – as important as correct footwear. Yes! We know you might be walking through a discount store and your daughter sees those cute little pink jellies. You think, “Aw she’ll out grow them in a couple of months.” What you’re not considering is what kind of permanent damage they can do her feet.

I was always shocked to see what shoes cost, considering they are so little. However, building a shoe for an adult or child takes about the same amount of time and labor. However, while we see prices of gas, tobacco, make-up, alcoholic beverages gradually increase, we’re unprepared for shoe price increase since we so seldom buy them.

One Bad Move . . .

When buying shoes for children, one of the greatest mistakes is buying shoes from self-service shoe stores or departments. None have properly trained shoe fitters. Therefore, each parent (lovingly) jams their child’s feet into shoes then press the toe to see if it’s “long enough.” This is not as critical for adults, because they know and react immediately if their feet are uncomfortable. However, it is potentially very damaging for children. Why?




Shop at stores with experienced shoe sales people who can measure your child’s feet and select styles to best accommodate them. Although there are many famous “style” names of children’s shoes, they have little experience with correct fitting. These build shoes to entice the parents and kids with flashing lights, included comic books, etc. However, I suggest Stride Rite shoes for kids, because their shoes are crafted specifically for the growing child’s feet. They have many “cute” and “manly” styles.

Don’t buy cheap shoes, especially those made from vinyl and plastic! (I personally feel “jellies” are not good for the child’s feet and usually have a stinky smell.)  I’d also suggest finding a reputable shoe store or shoe department with seasoned shoe professionals who can work with your children to accurately get their size and fit them into shoes that won’t ruin their feet. If you are pleased with them, I’d stick with them.

There’s usually a reason for the price, including quality leather; a good strong “counter” (back heel); and an arch support with leather inside. There are 240,000 sweat glands on your child’s feet with temperatures reaching 110 degrees. Vinyl and plastic is cheaper, but leather “wicks” away sweat from toes, so doesn’t allow bacteria to create stinky feet nearly as easily.

Other Related Shoe Topics

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Photo by mazaletel