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Shoe In

Pencils, notebooks, backpacks—I can handle shopping for those at back-to-school time. But new shoes? It’s never easy. At least once kids can talk, they can tell you that the shoes are too tight. But then they can also complain about the color or ugly style.

It’s never easy. At least once kids can talk, they can tell you that the shoes are too tight. But then they can also complain about the color or ugly style.

Shoe experts do have some advice and guidelines for getting the right shoes for children. I intuitively knew some of these, but I wish I had read them when my kids were toddlers so I would have felt better about my shoe choices. The advice still comes in handy today.

For one, it matters what’s on their feet. “Everything’s preventable, so what you do now for your child will help them down the road,” says Ashley Demers, marketing director and a shoe salesperson at Fleet Feet Sports in Syracuse. “Definitely, fit and comfort for them are the most important. Sometimes kids just go for the brightest colors.”
Second, shoes are not supposed to hurt. There is not supposed to be a break-in period, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association                                                                        (© Maska82 | Dreamstime.com)

Third, children’s feet should be measured regularly. Especially during the toddler years, feet may change size every three months. Don’t just go by size, though: Check the fit and comfort of each shoe, however, since size can vary by manufacturer, the APMA notes.

Many parents feel confident getting shoes for their children at a Stride Rite children’s shoe store or another children’s specialty shoe store. These stores may offer more options for toddlers with chubby feet, kids with high arches, or other hard-to-fit feet. It is reassuring to have an experienced shoe fitter measure one’s child and proclaim that the shoe fits. It’s OK to leave room at the front of the shoe (up to a thumbnail length) for movement and growth, according to Stride Rite’s website. But a child’s heel should not move when walking in shoes, so the back should fit well.

At Fleet Feet, every customer is asked to walk barefoot so a salesperson can see the natural walk and then to jog in the prospective shoes, formerly known as sneakers. The same goes for children. “Ask them: Is anything pinching or is anything rubbing?” Demers advises. “Engage them in conversation and make sure that it’s really comfortable on their feet.”

For those babies just starting to move, Stride Rite recommends very flexible shoes. The shoes the company recommend get stronger as the child learns to walk. The APMA gives some advice about shoe structure as well: “Squeeze the back of a shoe’s heel and ensure that it does not collapse.” Then hold the front of the shoe and make sure the shoe bends where the child’s toes would naturally bend in the shoe. (That one I always tried; some shoes don’t bend, which seemed very odd to me.) Finally, the APMA advises, “Grab the shoe at both ends and try to gently twist. Shoes should never twist in the middle and should be rigid.”

Many parents disagree with one piece of advice: Avoid hand-me-down shoes. The experts say the shoes could carry a fungus like athlete’s foot or have molded to someone else’s foot dimensions. I say, “What? Turn away a pair of barely worn snow boots or dress shoes? Not in my house.” But I do see the importance of getting kids their own pair of everyday shoes that are just the right fit for their feet.

Michelle Bandla, of Oswego, happens to agree with me. She makes sure each of her boys has a good pair of sneakers for regular wear. But she and her sister trade dress shoes and snow boots for the kids. “We have one pair of dress shoes still with the tags on them,” she says. One son will wear them some day, the sisters figure. Extra snow boots are very helpful when it’s easier to leave one pair at daycare and keep one pair at home, she adds.

Hand-me-downs are also helpful when it’s March and a child’s snow boots have gotten too tight. The stores won’t even sell them at that time of year.

I have big feet. Of course, the genes decided to pass that on, so my kids wear adult sizes now. Not bad except for price and the dreaded high-heel availability for my daughter, who is only 10.

In June we went to get her dress shoes to wear to a wedding and there they were: 3-inch and higher heels begging her to wear them (not necessarily walk in them, just buy). Well, I’m also tall, so I’ve never been a big fan of heels and I know they are not good for feet or anything else. I let her try them on.

“Go for it,” I said. She was delighted that the mongo strappy heels actually fit! She modeled those, trying not to fall over, while I looked for realistic dress shoes. We luckily found a pair: 1.5-inch black wedge sandals with rhinestone straps. They are very cool and not too high for a 10-year-old at a wedding. Whew. She’s worn them twice: Once to the wedding and once to school to show her friends, but she put her sneakers in her backpack to wear most of the day. ■

Eileen Gilligan, a mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.

(above photo:© Maska82 | Dreamstime.com)

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York