When can or should my toddler go barefoot?

It’s hard to walk by the footwear aisle without oohing and ahhing over the adorable little baby and toddler shoes, but as cute as they are, experts suggest limiting how often you confine those little footsies, especially in these earliest years.

Benefits of kicking off the shoes

As Baby begins to walk, you’ll want to select a supportive shoe for them, which will protect their feet from injury or infection that can come from the outdoors. Still, keeping developing feet stuck inside shoes for most of the day can actually get in the way of the foot’s natural development, so plenty of barefoot time around the house and in other safe areas is also important during the day.

Babies are constantly growing, and their feet are no exception. As toddlers begin to take their first steps, their feet are still being formed, and contain no fully-formed bones. Rather, their feet are composed of cartilage and tissue, with tendons and ligaments developing as the feet are used. This means that constraining these growing feet in shoes most of the time can have an impact on how they grow. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best foot development happens when young feet spend most of their time bare.

Other barefoot bonuses

Feet have one of the highest concentrations of nerve endings in the body, designed to help people adapt to the world around them. Letting Baby go barefoot outdoors will allow them to feel the ground beneath their feet directly, which can help them hone their balance as well as their appreciation for nature. Unless you’re in an area where there might be hidden danger, like broken glass, letting Baby explore even the outdoors without their shoes will help them better connect with nature.

Footwear certainly has its place, but freeing the foot has undeniable benefits, too. Letting feet breathe is a good way to reduce the risk of infection, and being cramped up in shoes all day can affect the way little feet naturally develop. Baby isn’t the only one who can enjoy a little barefoot time, either – next time you’re about to slip on some shoes, consider letting your feet free to wander for a while instead.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Staheli, Lynn T. “Shoes for Children: A Review.” Pediatrics 88.2 (1990).
  • Mary L. Gavin. “Movement, Coordination and Your 1- to 2-Year-Old.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, September 2014. Web.

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