WITH the plethora of parenting advice bombarding us on a daily basis, it’s easy to forget the little things.
Remember the days when getting properly fitted for shoes was the norm? You couldn’t pick up a pair of pumps in your local supermarket and children were seen in sensible footwear.
With kids growing up faster, they’re following fashion and lusting after mini-me styles. While parents are time-poor and prefer the ease of grabbing a pair of smart black shoes off the shelf of a shop, alongside the season’s school uniform.
And because of this, somehow, somewhere, we’ve forgotten the importance of children’s feet.
I remember my childhood new shoes ritual like it was yesterday. We’d all trot off to this ancient shoe emporium in Southampton, miles away from where we lived, because they sold Start Rite shoes and fitted us properly. I’d try a few on and if one pair fitted perfectly, I’d have them, and wear them with every single outfit I owned, from schoolwear to party clothes.
It’s a far cry from the footwear in my girls’ wardrobes. There are umpteen pairs of sandals, trainers, boots, wellies and sparkly numbers to choose from. And most have come from a non-specialist shoe store, snapped up before even being tried on.
But fitting our children’s feet like this could be setting them up for trouble in the future.
“Shoes alter how children walk and run,” says Dr Mick Wilkinson, a senior lecturer in the sport, exercise and rehabilitation dept at Northumbria University. “Shoe wearers have narrower, less flexible feet and poorer distribution of pressure, compared to always barefoot people.”
Indeed, the Journal Of Foot And Ankle Research study reveals that children walk faster wearing shoes, taking longer steps with greater ankle and knee motion, while reducing motion within the actual foot. And let’s not forget, despite being pretty tiny, each foot contains 26 bones and 20 muscles, all of which need using.
But while we’re not going to stop wearing shoes, we should actively encourage our children to be barefoot as much as possible (especially as we see out the last few weeks of summer) and opt for footwear which resembles wearing no shoes as much as it can.
“Shoes with stiff soles do not allow natural movement, preventing the big toe from flexing and limiting the range of movement in the ankle, lower leg and rear foot,” continues Dr Wilkinson. “The bones of the feet are also very malleable until early teenage years and will grow to fit the space in which they’re confined. So rigid-soled shoes will likely produce narrow, weak and inflexible feet.”