Choosing shoes for little children can be difficult because parents receive conflicting advice, says a children's foot specialist.
The common belief that babies should go barefoot until their feet adapt to hard surfaces can actually be detrimental to your child's health, says Dr. Herman Tax, a children's podiatrist and consultant for Reebok International Ltd.
"Hard, flat surfaces cause the bare infant foot to twist inward for support, creating the potential for malformed skeletal development," Tax said. "Babies should therefore wear shoes the moment they attempt to bear weight, usually 4 to 6 months of age."
Another common misconception is that children should learn to walk in hard leather shoes, Tax said.
"The modern contoured athletic sneaker gives better support to the infant foot and is a more natural surface."
Support is still very important for growing feet.
"You can determine this (adequate support) in the store by giving the shoe a good twist," Tax said. "Grasp the heel and toe and twist. If you do this with a cheap sneaker, it will be like wringing a wet cloth. A good shoe will resist the twist."
Parents should also look for a shoe with a rigid heel and shank and natural flex at the ball.
"The foot should bend only at the ankle and the ball of the foot for walking. The heel should fit snugly, and there should be a generous toe box so the toes can move freely," he said.
"A good arch support system will prevent the shoe from bending in the shank area, and there should be some form of ventilation to let the child's foot breathe."