Any parent of an active toddler has asked this question: "When should my child start wearing shoes?"
There is no clear consensus. Some parents buy shoes as soon as their baby pulls herself into a first tentative stand; others wait as long as possible, preferring not to constrict their children's feet.
"As a general rule, kids will need shoes when they are ready to start walking around outdoors," says Peggy Wells, who is both a mother and president of Pip Squeakers, a children's shoe company. "You will want something that protects your baby's feet but still allows for some flexibility," she explains.
For parents contemplating purchasing their baby's first shoes, here are some suggestions for things to consider from the experts at parentsplace.com and pipsqueakers.com:
* Make sure you get the proper fit. Shoes that are too tight or too loose could be painful or cause blisters, and may even hamper walking. Have your pediatrician measure your child's feet, during the regular check-ups. This will provide you with an accurate measurement when you refer to a shoe company's sizing chart.
* Avoid stiff, high-top leather shoes; there is no evidence that they help babies walk. Instead, look for something soft and flexible that allows your baby to use the movement of his feet to maintain balance and to walk. They should be made from canvas or some other breathable material, and have flat, flexible, non-slip soles.
* Get shoes your child likes. Pip Squeakers shoes make a pleasing "squeak" that children enjoy. "It encourages them to move, walk and explore their surroundings," says Wells, who adds that children enjoy creating the amusing sounds with each step. An added benefit is safety: the sound allows parents to more easily track the movements of their toddler and keep them within a close radius.
* Safe closures. Make sure that your baby's shoes fasten well. Double-knot laces so that they are less likely to come undone and make sure buckle straps are secure without being too tight. Velcro fasteners are the easiest option.
* It is normal to have a slight discrepancy in foot size between the two feet; you want to make sure to go with the shoe size that fits the larger foot. Allow about one-half inch of space at the end of the longest toe to the end of the shoe. The toes should be able to wiggle freely, and the heel should not slip with normal walking.
* Get the shoe that is most comfortable for your child, even if it is not the same size that the measurement device indicates. Be aware that sizing differs with each shoe company, so refer to their respective sizing charts. It is advisable to inspect the shoe fit every couple of weeks, to insure the continuing comfort of your child's feet.
Because of their unique ability to make sounds, Pip Squeakers shoes may be of interest to parents of children with disabilities who may have vision or mobility problems.
Tricia O'Connell is a special needs teacher, and is now in her 20th year of teaching. She is also the co-founder of Pip Squeakers. For more information on children's shoes and Pip Squeakers, visit http://www.pipsqueakers.com or call (866) 722-4535.