Why so many kids are wearing too small shoes
Shoes of Seddon
Shoes of Seddon
Shoes of Seddon
Shoes of Seddon

Why so many kids are wearing too small shoes


And what you can do to avoid the same mistake

Some 65% of children are wearing shoes that are too small, putting them at risk of foot deformities, a new study has found. 

And the problem may be linked to the way parents check the fit of children’s shoes.

US educational website BlitzResults asked 2109 parents for their kids’ foot length and shoe size. They then gave them measuring devices and instructions on how to properly measure feet to determine each child’s actual foot and shoe size.

Comparing the parents’ guestimates against the actual measurements revealed only 32% of kids are wearing correctly sized shoes. And only 11% of these children have room to grow in their shoes.

The results are concerning given a study found that almost 30% of irreversible foot deformities like hallux valgus are linked to poorly fitting shoes. In hallux valgus, the big toe bends inwards, pushing the toe joint sideways. This can lead to joint problems down the track, including bunions.

Here are the main reasons why parents may not realise their child has outgrown their shoes:

 They hold the foot against the bottom of the shoe to see how much room is left.

  • This is unreliable because the inside length of the shoe is much smaller than the outersole due to the lining, seams and reinforcements.
  • Another problem is the foot lengthens with weight bearing so this technique doesn’t capture the true fit while walking.


They use the thumb test to see if there is still wiggle room in the shoe.

Who hasn’t pressed their thumb down in the top of the shoe to see if the shoes still fit? The problem with this technique is kids often reflexively draw their toes back giving the false impression there is still plenty of room in the shoe.


They push their finger into the back of the shoe to see how much space is left.

This pushes the foot forward and the toes into the front of the shoe. Again, this causes the toes to draw back in reflex, giving a false impression there is still plenty of room.


They ask kids how the shoes feel.

There are a couple of reasons why this fails:

  • Kids’ nerve endings are not as highly developed as in adults so they may not experience the same level of discomfort we do when shoes are too tight.
  • Kids get attached to their shoes, possibly because wearing the same shoes is part of their comforting routine. So you may not get a reliable response if they fear their beloved shoes are about to be replaced. The same holds true when trying new shoes in the shop. The shoes they want will always be comfortable while those they are less keen on will ‘hurt’. Funnily enough, this phenomenon can affect the exact same shoe in different colours — the blue hurts but the sparkly silver is just fine.


Now for the correct ways to check shoe fit.


  • Get your child to stand on a piece of paper on a flat, even surface. Trace around the foot and then cut out the tracing and place it in the shoe to see if the shoe is longer than the foot. If you have a dressmaking tape it may be more reliable to measure the inside length of the shoe and then compare it to the length of the foot based on the tracing. Tip: Make sure your child is standing with their weight evenly distributed across both feet, knees straight and looking straight ahead.  This ensures the feet relax into their natural length. Measure both feet as it’s common for one foot to be longer than the other. Use the longest foot as the guide for shoe fitting.
  • If the shoe has a removable innersole, take it out and get your child to stand on it. Again, make sure they are standing straight, with weight balanced across both feet and looking ahead. The innersole should be at least 0.5 cm longer than the foot.


Here are four other things to know.

  • Don’t rely on shoe sizing: There is no industry standard for shoe lasts so the inside length for each size varies between brands. This means you could get it wrong if you buy a new pair of shoes and select the same size as a pair of their shoes your child is currently wearing. 
  • Going up one size may not be enough. Foot growth is not always a slow, steady process — kids can whip through a few sizes in a short period of time. In fact 18% of kids from the survey were wearing shoes two sizes too small. The reason kids’ feet can squash into such small shoes is many of the bones are still soft and malleable.
  • Check the shoe fit every two months for young babies, every three to four months for older toddlers and every six months for children aged four to six years.
  • Aim for 0.5 to 1 cm growing room for toddlers and pre-schoolers and 1 to 1.5 cm for older children.


Other signs toddler shoes are too tight:

  • Kids stand or walk on their tip-toes. Try it out — it helps draw the toes away from the end of the shoe.
  • Your child cries when you approach holding their shoes or starts pushing at your hand and loudly protesting when you try to put them on their feet.
  • You have to twist the shoe and tap on the sole to get it on.
  • Little toes are buckled under when you take off the shoe and reflexively stretch out  — or you have to uncurl the toes for them.


To read the full survey results click here.


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