Buying Shoes for the Kids

So your child complains about the shoes and that they’re too tight.  And after checking to assure that there is sufficient room for the toes, you have to get another pair. 
But what exactly are you supposed to know about buying shoes?  What are you supposed to do?

Basics on Buying Shoes

There are some basic facts that you have to remember when you go out to buy shoes. 

  • Children need solid support through the arch of the feet as they grow, so buying the cheapie sneaker off of the rack can be ultimately self-defeating as a constant practice of this can lead to problems in the future. Stride Rite has been considered to be the gold standard for small childrens’ shoes.
  • You might consider buying them a small pair before they start to walk so that they’re at least used to the feeling of shoes when they actually take the first steps.
  • Understand that for children, there are two sizing scales.  You have to be careful in discussing sizes whether you’re referring to the scale for toddlers or the one for children who are in elementary school and beyond.
  • The sizing decision can be different depending upon the type of shoe.  You want to move up a half size on dress shoes and a full size on winter boots.

The Basics of Buying Shoes

When you take your child to the shoe store, you’re going to need to use what most people refer to as "that flat, long foot measuring thingy."  At least that’s what I always called it.  That piece of equipment is actually called a Brannock Device and was invented in the 1920s to ease the process.  I could try to explain the process of using it, but it’s better done by simply going to the actual directions.  With children, it’s important to always measure the foot for several reasons.  First, not all children grow at the same rate and a kid could easily have gone two sizes since the last pair without complaint.  Second, if a child is hypersensitive about the feel of something on their feet – one of mine is fanatical about socks – then you can physically point to the number on the device and reassure them that that should be the correct size.

When considering which scale to use, use this as a starting point.  The sizing for Toddler shoes runs from 1 to 13 and when the child outgrows a size 13, they revert back to size 1 on the scale used by everybody else.  A good rule of thumb is that a child will move to the upper scale at about four years of age.  If they’re higher on the growth chart than the typical kid their age, then consider the upper scale size earlier.

You should consider bringing a pair of thinner – think dress – socks when trying on the shoes.  Thicker athletic socks are fine for trying on sneakers, but if you’re looking for dress shoes, then you do want to have the kid in appropriate socks.  Because of health concerns about people trying on new shoes while barefoot, shoe stores are supposed to have disposable hose socks available; I have been in stores however, in which the boxes were empty so it’s worth extra effort to have a pair of socks in your pocket or diaper bag.

If you’re like me, you might find the foot width confusing.  The sizes on shoe boxes are listed as either M(edium) or W(ide), yet the width on the Brannock Device is alphabet based (A through E).  There is a general translation in that the ‘E’ is considered Wide and the ‘C’ is a Medium. 

A reasonable approach for finding a pair would be this.

  1. Measure your child’s foot – and she needs to stand – in the Brannock Device and then find one or more potential pairs of shoes.
  2. Put one or both shoes on her feet, tying them securely, and then take check her toes for room.  Ask her to stand and then lift her big toe as high as possible.  You should simultaneously be pressing your thumb on the very end of the shoe to see about where the raised toe is in relation to the end of the shoe.  The ideal is to have a thumb-width between the big toe and the very end of the shoe.
  3. Take her for a walk around the store.  You can send them for a walk around when older, but the little ones are difficult to see in crowded stores and are more likely to forget where you are.
  4. Pay attention as she walks to how she’s doing in them.  Limping?  Constantly reaching down to readjust or rub them?  Crying her lungs out?  When she walks, does the heel come out of the back of the shoe?
  5. After she removes her shoes, take a look at her heels below the ankle.  Is there redness from the heel rubbing against the back of the shoe?

If everything checks out, then it’s looking good for buying the shoes.  Don’t be surprised if your child complains or whines about the shoes in the next several days.  Examine her feet to see if it appears to be a legitimate issue, but some kids don’t do well with change and that even carries over to the new sneakers.

A Practical Exercise

Petunia is a five year-old with a history of chronic complaints about uncomfortable shoes and clothing, and her normal mode is to shuck off her clothing and don baggy sweat pants and a Barney Sweatshirt as soon as she’s home.  When you see her actually rubbing her toes one night, you decide that perhaps it is time to swing by the shoe store.

Petunia stands and has her foot measured on the Brannock Device and it comes in at 3 for length and D for width.  You have her look down and see how it says 3 – D for future reference.  You find a reasonable pair of size 3 sneakers in Wide (3 W) and since you decide to kill two birds with one stone, you also find a pair of 3 1/2 W Dress shoes.

Have Petunia try each pair on and with each, walk around the store – specifying that she isn’t supposed to actually leave the store.  Also check the location of her big toe and when she takes the shoe off, check her heel for rubbing/redness.  If you’re satisfied that further complaints are really Petunia’s head and not her feet, then they’re good to go.  If there are legitimate issues, then go back and find one or more other pairs to try. 

Sorry, but you can’t just walk in and be done with it.  But a little time spent here is worth a world of upset later.

Special Thanks to Amanda Heisey of Supershoes for her assistance with this article.

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