Around about the first birthday, most children learn to walk. From then on the feet and lower limbs will be required to provide a lifetime’s service, covering countless thousands of steps.
As the child grows, the cartilage in the foot gradually hardens until the foot is fully mature. It is vital that the feet be accommodated in shoes that adequately support them as well as provide plenty of room for growth during this development phase.
Babies that have not yet started walking do not need shoes. Warm, soft booties or socks that do not restrict the foot in any way are best suited at this age. Barefoot is also fine in a warm environment.
Once a child starts to walk, shoes are important. For the first year of walking, shoes should have a smooth sole that does not catch easily on the walking surface. This should reduce the chances of falling and give the child confidence in their walking ability.
Shoes that support the ankle are most suitable at this age. Shoes should be made of a lightweight material that allows the foot to breathe. At this stage expect to have to get a new pair of shoes every three months. It is also important that the child should go barefoot as often as possible, as long as it is in a controlled environment.
By the time a child is of school-going age, expect to have to get new shoes every six months. The intervals between new shoes should lengthen as the child grows older. School shoes should be durable yet flexible and allow the foot plenty of room to breathe.
Shoes will over time mould to the foot and the specific wear patterns of the individual so it is not a good idea to hand shoes down to the next child. School children will also be participating in sports and shoes will be required for this. Choose the appropriate shoe for the sporting activity.
What are the most common foot problems affecting children?
Flat feet. This is caused by excessive collapse of the medial arches, resulting in excessive pressure on the feet, ankle, knees and hips. Flat feet are also the cause of muscle imbalances in the leg. The foot appears to “roll inward” as the child walks. A podiatrist can correct this with a prescription orthotic (arch support).
Intoeing. Also known as pigeon toes, this is a condition where the feet are pointed inwards. The shoes will also show abnormal wear patterns on the soles and uppers. This condition is normally outgrown by the second birthday. If the problem persists, consult your podiatrist.
Ingrown toenails. This painful condition is common in children and teenagers. The nails of the big toe are most often affected. The most common causes are incorrect nail cutting and shoes that are too small. Children that have recurring ingrown toenails should consult a podiatrist.
Skin infections. Children’s feet sweat a lot, making children more vulnerable to athlete’s foot. The problem is worsened by children participating in group barefoot activities where the infection can easily spread. Good foot hygiene, clean socks and shoes of non-synthetic material are important to avoid fungal skin infections. If a fungal infection is suspected, consult your podiatrist, pharmacist or doctor.
Plantar warts. Children are also susceptible to plantar warts. These lesions are caused by a viral infection and are highly contagious. They are usually not very painful and are commonly found on the soles of the foot. They can be treated by a doctor or podiatrist.
(Podiatrists Dallas Fell and Chris Delpierre, updated December 2009)