Produced by The Society of Shoe Fitters
The information in this article has been written to help you understand the essentials of good foot health when selecting children’s shoes, and the problems you may encounter and how to avoid them. Please read our leaflet A Guide to Shoe Buying and Foot Care for more advice.
One of the most important yet most abused parts of the human body are the feet. Feet are designed to take body weight and give mobility essential to quality of life. Whilst vast amounts of money are spent in educating people to look after themselves nutritionally and physically, little effort is made to educate them on the importance of foot-health. Feet are often crammed into the most unsuitably shaped shoes (often made of plastic), and the only time they are given a thought is when they hurt. There is no doubt that from birth to early teens, feet are at their most vulnerable; in fact there are 26 bones in the foot, and they do not complete ossifying (growing) until around the age of eighteen! Shoe fitters and Chiropodists spend the majority of their time trying to correct damage and ease discomfort which could have been avoided if shoes had been correctly fitted when purchased.
Shoes should ALWAYS be fitted by trained personnel and the shop will either display a Certificate/Diploma or the Fitter will be wearing a badge of merit. Only a member of the Society of Shoe Fitters can say they are a ‘qualified’ or ‘expert’ shoe fitter. Certificates given for other training days are not a qualification in shoe fitting but denote an amount of training received.
A FITTING GAUGE IS MERELY A GUIDE TO A QUALIFIED FITTER
A ‘Fitting Gauge’ (not shoe measure or foot measure) plays only a small role in the selection of the correct shoe and ascertaining the necessary fitting properties. It is the expertise of the Shoe Fitter which determines these factors. Gauges are calibrated to manufacturers last’s and relate to their specific brand – which is why you may receive conflicting measurements – because one brand varies from another. A child may take a size four in one brand and a half size larger in another, or perhaps a different width fitting! Country of origin, manufacturing technique, brand, style etc. all play a part in how a shoe fits and not what size it says on the box!
WHY TAKE CHANCES WITH YOUR CHILD’S HEALTH? YOU DON’T PAY MORE TO HAVE FEET FITTED, SO WHY RISK BUYING THEM WITHOUT A FITTING SERVICE? BE GUIDED BY A QUALIFIED FITTER.
It is also important to remember to wear the RIGHT SHOE FOR THE RIGHT OCCASION.
“When does my child need its first pair of shoes?” is the first question most fitters are asked! The simplest answer is “when the child is walking most of the day by itself and wants to walk outside”. At that time the child needs a pair of shoes to protect its feet. This can be between seven months and two years. Never push your child on to walk if it is not ready just because your friend’s child has been walking for months; your child may have more important things on it’s mind! The Society has recently (February 2007) received a high volume of calls due to a recent press report of a child walking at 6 months. This is extremely rare – hence the media interest, but the same child may not develop as quickly in other areas. Let your child take their time, it is not a race or a mark of your child’s brilliance. Learning to walk is exciting, but only if a child does so of their own accord!
The type of shoes you choose for an infant should be designed around the shape of the feet (slim at the heel and wide at the forepart). This is because an infants foot is reasonably triangular in shape and consists mostly of gristle and cartilage. Ideally shoes should also be made in a variety of width fittings, after all there is no standardisation of shoe sizing and feet do not conform to a standard either, but a good fitter will recognize a well fitting shoe in continental sizes too. A good quality shoe looks good for longer and the design incorporates components that respond to the demands of the foot i.e. weight bearing, balance and movement. They should be firm and snug at the heel to cradle the foot and yet flexible at the front with an adjustable fastening.
Materials should be natural ones. Cotton and leather linings and leather uppers are porous and they ensure that moisture is absorbed and allowed to escape, keeping the feet dry avoiding irritating complaints such as Athletes Foot. Leather is also the only material to conform to the shape of the foot and stay there, thus making the best possible fit. This is why shoes should never be passed down to another child!
Children’s feet grow erratically in fits and starts during infancy and feet can grow by a half size in a matter of weeks. Having bought the shoes it is advisable to have them checked after eight weeks to see if they still fit. Admittedly this time in the child’s development can be an expensive one! However this is money well spent, don’t be tempted to make shoes last longer or revert to badly made self-fitted footwear, as your investment in the future will pay dividends! A trained shoe fitter will check the shoes and advise the customer on whether the child needs a new pair but Society members will not sell you a pair of shoes unless required.
Do not forget SOCKS. These can be as important as fitted footwear. When a child needs new shoes they may well need new socks. Choose carefully. Cotton socks are best, but always check the toe seam as a `casting off ‘knot on the end can cause painful abrasions. Teach your child to loosen their socks at the toe before putting on shoes as they can restrict the blood stream and cause discomfort – particularly with diabetics.
The most frequent cause of anxiety for mothers about their children’s feet relates to the child walking pigeon toed – with their weight falling to the inside of the feet rather than the outside. This is known as pronation. This is not the most effective way to walk, being unsightly and causing long term problems; it also makes fitting soft shoes very difficult. When the child’s weight comes down onto the inside margin of the foot, the muscles at the sides of the lower leg try to control the foot and keep it balanced, but are unable to do so. The foot loses its balance and rolls inwards. If this happens to a child wearing soft shoes the foot cannot lie straight in the shoe. The inside quarters (rear of the shoe) collapse, the outside quarters have a gap and the little toe gets pressure from the forepart of the shoe. Under these conditions, shoes do not fit well and will not last very long. Well made children’s fitted shoes that are stiff at the back yet flexible in the front, control children’s feet and keep them balanced. This relieves the muscles from strain and keeps shoes in good shape too. All children’s feet will pronate at some point in time to varying degrees which in almost all cases will correct itself as the muscles strengthen and develop. During a time of pronation however, the need for good quality fitted footwear is imperative to ensure the feet develop properly.
Children aged four and upwards should have shoes checked every ten to twelve weeks (and at the least every four months).
Qualified staff will not try to sell a pair of shoes unless they are needed.
In short, the main points to remember are:
a. Have your children regularly fitted by a QUALIFIED SHOE FITTER.
b. Bear in mind the Gauge is merely a guide, there is no standardisation of shoe sizing.
c. Buy footwear made of leather or other natural materials.
d. Wear the right shoe for the right occasion.
e. Make time mid-week to purchase footwear, especially if your child is hard to fit. Saturdays are busy!
f. If you are in doubt about the fitting of shoes at the time of purchase, ask the Supervisor to check the fit.
g. Monitor your child’s sock drawer and discard those that are misshapen or outgrown.
h. If ‘baby-grows’ still fit in the body but are tight over the toes – cut the toes out and use socks to keep feet warm.
i. Check toe seams of socks for casting off knots.
j. Keep feet clean and toe nails trimmed (cut nails straight across do not shape them).