How to Choose the Right Shoes for Your Toddler

One of the questions I get most often from parents at my work is about choosing the right shoes for their toddlers. There are so many different brands, styles and adorable patterns that it’s no wonder that parents are often confused and concerned about what’s best for developing feet. And the price ranges wildly, too, which leads even seasoned parents to wonder if they’ve made the right decision for the tiny growing feet in their life.

While I don’t believe that there is one end-all-be-all brand for toddler shoes, I think some styles and some brands do the job better than others for different stages of walking. But the most important thing is that the shoes fit properly (which we’ll get to in a second!). Keep an eye out for sales and coupons, many stores will do buy one get one half off a few times a year, which is a good time to stock up on the shoes your toddler needs or will need for the future!

  • 1 of 6
    how to choose toddler shoes

    Click through for tips and suggestions about the best shoes for toddlers of every phase!

  • A few words about fit 2 of 6
    toddler shoe fitting

    Before we get to specifics, we need to address proper fitting. Toddlers have rapidly growing feet. As tempting as it may be to put your child in shoes a few sizes too big, resist the temptation. It can make them trip and fall (more than usual!) and may cause them more difficulty with running and play activities or rub blisters that will make you all miserable. Shoes should have about a half an inch of room to grow when the toes are completely relaxed (not gripping the sole) and shouldn't leave red marks when properly tightened. If your child has "tall" feet like my son (they're kind of puffy on top), you may want to look into wide widths to help accommodate the extra height. When in doubt, take your child to a department store or a store that specializes in children's shoes to have them properly sized.

  • For the pre-walker 3 of 6
    Shoes for pre-walkers

    When toddlers are just starting to stand and walk, barefoot is definitely best, but that doesn't really work for out in public, so for these occasions, leather soft soled shoes are the best. You can find a few varieties of these. We really like Robeez (pictured above), but Target sells their own version and they get the job done as well, as do the Stride Rite crib shoes. They won't protect against giant rocks or other terribly sharp obstacles on the ground, but for a pre-walker who is likely to only be standing or walking on sidewalk or indoors on safe flooring, they are the perfect shoes. Bulky or stiff soled shoes don't let pre-walkers feel the floor or use certain strategies for balance and should be avoided until the child is an accomplished toddler.

  • For the new walker 4 of 6
    Shoes for new walkers

    Again, whenever at home, shoeless is best. It gives little feet better input and information, which helps them perfect their toddle and balance. When out and about, the leather bottom shoes will still work, but for more protection from the elements, you may try a slightly thicker sole like PediPeds (pictured above) or the Stride Rite crawler shoes. They still allow better input into the feet than rigid or thick soled shoes, but provide a bit more protection than the shoes recommended for pre-walkers.

  • For the established walker 5 of 6
    shoes for established walkers

    This is where the fun begins because the world is your shoe oyster. My favorite shoes for established walkers are Stride Rite (like those pictured above) brand purely because they offer a variety of different seasonal options, all with good supportive soles. All too often, parents get excited by the allure of cute sandals and choose ones with flimsy or overly rigid soles that don't support the developing foot and make walking more difficult. Each Stride Rite store has employees who can properly size your child to make sure that the shoes fit properly (and you are under no obligation to purchase shoes, so it's not a bad idea to get sized and try out shoes elsewhere!). They also offer wide and extra wide options, for those toddlers with extra chubby feet. Other brands that provide good support in a variety of styles are See Kai Run and for a slightly less expensive option, look into the Smartfit shoes available at Payless. Avoid flip flops and shoes that are so rigid that the sole cannot be flexed easily by hand. 

  • A word of caution… 6 of 6
    caution about used shoes

    While we are the biggest proponents of hand-me-downs on the face of the earth -- literally, greater than 90% of Eli's clothes are hand-me-downs -- we make an exception for shoes. Each child's foot is different and the soles conform to the feet in them. When you put a child in used shoes, you reduce the support of the sole, you modify their developing arch and you make them more prone to balance difficulties and blisters. If you watch sales you can get shoes for very reasonable prices and you won't regret taking good care of your toddler's feet.

What are your favorite brands for toddler shoes? And why?

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