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A podiatrist’s guide to buying your toddler’s first pair of shoes

Last Modified: March 26, 2024

Family Medicine

toddler shoe


This post was written by Ashley M. Bojrab, DPM, FACFAS, ABPM, CWS, PPG – Podiatry.

Being a first-time parent, you get flooded with information on how to take care of your tiny human. Then they grow, as do your questions about their needs and safety. They start walking and running and, before you know it, you’re considering the best shoe for their busy feet. In this post, we’ll take some of the guesswork out of purchasing shoe gear for your on-the-move little one.

Type of shoe – soft vs. hard

There is no one answer for which type of shoe is best for your child. But to help you evaluate the options, we’ll look at the benefits and drawbacks of the two most common categories of shoe gear: soft and hard.

Soft shoes tend to be best for babies or toddlers who are not walking yet. One thing that’s happening during this point in your child’s development, is they are taking in a lot of sensory input. Soft shoes, as well as letting them go barefoot in safe environments, are great ways to stimulate the sensory nerves to support development and growth.

Remember, it’s important to remove the shoes while the baby or toddler is sleeping. Parents often worry that their child’s feet will get cold, but a nice, fitted sock or a onesie with feet can help provide comfort. Allowing them to fall asleep with shoes on can be a hazard.

Hard-soled shoes are often best for a child who has recently started to walk or is walking. I recommend a stiff base to help with balance, protect their feet and help minimize the impact of stress when walking. Typically, stiff-soled shoes will have a wider toe box with more depth to let their little toes wiggle and move around as they move.

Shoe size – T vs. no T

Choosing the right size of shoe for a little one can be challenging! The technology of today allows us to order a new pair of shoes and have it delivered in the same day, without leaving the house. The convenience is great but it isn’t necessarily the best option for fitting a growing foot with the proper shoe gear.

Ideally, a toddler’s feet should be measured. Even better if this is done by a shoe expert, though sadly, this is becoming harder to find, as retailers and trained professionals get crowded out by online options.

Some brands size the shoe according to the child’s age, although this is not necessarily the most accurate approach, either. Not all retailers use the same language or metrics when sizing shoes for children. I like this guide from the retailer REI, which explains that typically toddlers’ and little kids’ shoe sizes range from 0-13 and sometimes the letter “T” is added behind the number. Alternatively, “Big Kids’ Shoes” are 1-7 without a letter behind the name. After size 7, children would then transition to adult-size shoes.

When shopping, follow these recommendations for best results:

  • Have the child put on the shoes and walk around the store to make sure they are comfortable in the style.
  • Press on the tip of the shoe. leaving a thumb width from the longest toe to the end of the shoe, or, if it is a smaller child, a pinky finger will do.
  • Check the toe box to ensure the child has room to wiggle their toes.
  • Squeeze the sides of the shoe to make sure they aren’t too tight. 
  • If the child is between two sizes, it’s OK to go with the larger pair.  A shoe that’s too tight can become painful and cause issues such as ingrown toenails and other foot deformities.

Read more on the importance of properly fitting shoes.


Children grow fast, so parents should check their shoes often. Toddlers aren’t necessarily the best communicators, so you will need to have them try on the shoe and assess how it’s fitting, rather than relying on their input alone.

I hope these tips help as you shop for the best support for your busy little one. If you have any concerns about your child’s feet, speak with your pediatrician or podiatrist. We are here to help every step of the way!

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