Shoes not necessary for new walkers


September 04, 1994|By BEVERLY MILLS

Q: My child will be walking soon, and I need to know how to buy the right shoes. I've heard a lot of conflicting advice. Also, can hand-me-down shoes hurt their feet?

-- Wendy Johnson, Dallas

A: Even if the shoe fits, you may not want your child to wear it.

"The best shoe for a child at this stage is no shoe at all," says Dr. Jack Eldridge, Egleston Children's Hospital's chief of pediatric orthopedics at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.

Barefoot toddlers will grab the carpet with their toes, spread them and use all their foot muscles when beginning to walk. Shoes can inhibit this process.

Marianne MacCullagh, a mother of four from Chesapeake, Va., says she made a mistake by rushing to buy sturdy shoes when her first child, now 13, was learning to walk.

"I made sure that she was in the high-top Stride Rites right away so that she wouldn't fall over," Ms. MacCullagh says. "But her ankles hurt a lot, and I think that she took longer to walk because of it."

The exception to this, says Jill Clark, a reader from Dallas, Texas, is when the child's feet need protection -- either from the ground surface or from the weather.

Dr. Eldridge agrees.

"When you're unsure of the environment, put your child in a soft, flexible shoe that's light and as cheap as possible," he says.

Dr. Eldridge sees hundreds of children's feet each week, and he's always a bit startled when he sees 11-month-old children wearing designer sneakers that he knows cost $80 to $100 a pair.

Many parents hesitate to buy their children's shoes at a bargain store for fear they don't have the expertise to get a proper fit. But if you keep in mind that until the child is 2, shoes are for the sole purpose of protection, Dr. Eldridge says, fitting the foot is simple.

First, turn the shoe upside-down and match the sole to the bottom of the child's foot. If you can see shoe sticking out on all sides of the foot, Dr. Eldridge says, it's wide enough and the child's foot won't be jammed.

Next, try on the shoe. Do the old test of pressing the toe with your

thumb to ensure that the shoe is long enough.

When the child is about 2, the shoe's main value becomes the ability to absorb shock in addition to protection. Concern about ankle and arch support isn't necessary until the child is at least in grade school, Dr. Eldridge says.

"The typical child's foot is short, broad and absolutely flat in the beginning," Dr. Eldridge says. "They tend to develop arches in grade school, and by high school, the foot is set."

The measure of a healthy foot, Dr. Eldridge says, is whether it causes the child pain.

Once the child is running and jumping, think in terms of shock absorption. For this reason alone, the child shouldn't wear any shoes for running and jumping that are worn out -- including hand-me-downs.

"In a school-age child, the tennis shoes need to fit well and be replaced frequently," Dr. Eldridge says. "In our family, it's the dress shoes and the tap shoes that get handed down."

While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed this column after the birth of her son, now 5. Ms. Mills and her husband currently live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 3-year-old daughter.


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* Big personality: "When my 6 1/2 -year-old daughter and I visit friends, go to a party or have company over, she makes a total nuisance of herself with aggressive behavior," says E. S. of El Paso, Texas. "She bosses other kids around like a drill sergeant. I hesitate to take her anywhere. What can I do?"

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