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A new baby? Congratulations! From diapers to dating, you have about sixteen years of exciting adventures ahead of you. But, focusing on the first year, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your little one becomes mobile. First they crawl, and then it won’t be long until you hear the proverbial “pitter-patter” of little feet. And that begs the question: how do you protect those cute little piggys and properly fit your child for shoes?

While it’s tempting to accessorize that adorable baby outfit with high-top sneakers or hiking boots, it’s not beneficial to the child. Barefoot is best, but if the situation warrants it (cold weather, special occasions, etc.), stick with soft-bottomed shoes. A baby who is crawling, standing up or walking with assistance needs to have the freedom to curl his toes. This allows him to form a grip on the carpet or floor and helps him balance. Soft-bottomed shoes provide this freedom and let him actually feel the surface beneath him.

Once your child is walking steadily, take her for her first hard-bottomed shoe fitting. It’s important to go to a reputable store that specializes in children’s shoes. Measuring a toddler’s foot is especially tricky. The first challenge is getting her to stand still. The foot has to lie flat against the gauge, and the shoe size is determined by the marking where the tip of the big toe touches. In addition, the width must be measured for a comfortable fit. This is where the advice of an experienced professional is invaluable. The sales associate will take the measurements, make an accurate assessment of size and recommend a proper shoe. Once the shoe is slipped on, the associate will feel the foot to see where the big toe reaches, to check if the width is adequate, and to determine if there is enough room on the top for the instep. If all criteria are met, the final step is to purchase the shoe.

Back again? Baby needs a new pair of shoes! Don’t be surprised if you visit the shoe store more often than you visit your relatives. Small children’s feet grow rapidly and it is necessary to closely monitor them. Too-tight shoes often go unnoticed by young children, or they are unable to communicate the problem. Thus, caregivers should make a commitment to have children’s feet measured every two to three months. Many children’s shoe stores will record the date of each fitting and the child’s current shoe size. They may even mail a reminder notice. One resourceful couple uses car maintenance as a reminder: when it’s time to change the oil, it’s time to change their child’s shoes (It has worked in reverse, too). New shoes should be purchased even if the foot has only grown slightly, to avoid potential discomfort. Immediately discard or give away the old, tight fitting shoes. Do not allow your child to wear them for any reason.

As your child gets older, his foot growth will slow down. However, children’s shoes represent a hefty monetary investment (brands sold in shoe stores start at about $30) no matter how often they’re purchased, so be sure to choose a sturdy, all-purpose style. Inspect the shoe for abrasive surfaces that can rub against the foot and cause irritation or blisters. Make certain that the shoe is securely fastened for proper support, and return to the store any shoe that your child says hurts his foot after a trial wearing.

Remember: measure often and seek the assistance of a children’s shoe professional. Insist on proper fittings for shoes, and your children will be off on the right foot.