Your child might be wearing heels, right now

I’m going to say it straight: I don’t like to see a child in heeled shoes. Let me be clear. I’m not only talking about high heels or those plastic high-heel costume shoes. I’m talking about school shoes and soccer shoes. Summer sandals, toddler shoes, and “healthy shoes for kids.” If you look at the kids around you, you’re likely to find a heel on almost every pair of shoes they are wearing.

Last year I posted this on my Facebook page:

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“When I see a ONE INCH heel on both a Kid’s size 8.5 shoe and a Woman’s size 7 shoe, it makes me wonder if anyone in shoe-design has ever taken trigonometry. FWIW, the shorter the foot, the GREATER the distortion created by a particular heel height.”

I expanded on this picture in Whole Body Barefoot and I’ve copied it below because I think it’s important that you read it.

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KIDS AND HEELED SHOES

Recalling Picture B on page 15 [adding below for your reference], there are three measures that affect how much a heel distorts a body from neutral: the height of the heel, the length of the foot, and the height of the body.

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The shorter the foot wearing a heeled shoe, the greater the angle upon which the foot is set. When it comes to putting kids in heeled shoes, it bears emphasizing:

  • The higher the heel, the more forward the body is projected.
  • The shorter the foot, the more forward the body is projected.
  • The taller the body, the more forward the body is projected. 


Kids are short, but they also have short feet, which is why it drives me crazy to see a child’s shoe with a heel the same height as their parents’. The short foot of a child “magnifies” a heel’s effect—even a heel of seemingly inconsequential height. Which means that, in the case of these shoes (a woman’s size 7 and a child’s size 8.5), the angle between the standing surface and the foot would be much greater in the child than in the adult.

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It also means that the necessary compensation to get the body back “upright” is relatively greater for the child than the adult. Want to experience the math for yourself? Go to a free-standing bookshelf and put this book under either the right or left side to see how far the bookshelf tips. (For extra fun, look how the books shift and imagine how the loads to each of the “book cells” change in this arrangement.) Then put this book under the back of the bookshelf and again, note the total distance traveled by the unit…and the books.

Barring medical conditions or the occasional dress up, heeled shoes have no place in a child’s wardrobe. Children’s shoes are not mini versions of adult fashion; they’re maxi versions. They amplify the deleterious effects of traditional footwear. For this reason (and for many others), I buy only minimal shoes for my kids.

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When you first start looking, it feels impossible to find shoes without heels (or elevated toes, or pointy toe-boxes that squish the toes together, or don’t attach, like a slide-on or flip-flop). Especially if you’re walking into a store like this:

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Fortunately, companies that make “minimal shoes” (to various degrees) are sprouting up all of the time. Read Shoes: The List to gather the basics on what you’re looking for. Here’s a picture of the list of Kid Shoes from an appendix in Whole Body Barefoot (sorry for the blur, I need a new camera!).

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Support sprouting companies when you’re able, so they can continue making these products. If you’re an ETSY store or larger company that makes minimal shoes for kids, or you’ve got a lead on a great brand or shoe, leave a link in the comments and I’ll compile and publish Shoes: The KIDS List. OK?

Tread well, my friends!

 

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17 thoughts on “Your child might be wearing heels, right now

    1. As an aside, kids can use their pool noodles to stretch their calf muscles . 2″” noodles are best for them and 4″ ones for us.

  1. I just got Plae shoes for my kids. I was a little upset at first because there is a heel lift on the insole but I was able to separate it from the rest of the insert without much damage. If I order them again I plan to contact the company about this issue because the way they are advertised I didn’t expect this.
    Also Panama Jack water shoes on amazon. I don’t know how long they will last but I like that they are wider then many water shoes.

  2. On Toesalad I cam across a company called Zeazoo Kids, which seems to adhere (mostly) to barefoot/minimal principles. Unfortunatelly in the larger sizes (European 28 and up) the shoes seem to get narrower in the front, conforming somewhat to the tappering toe standard. I haven’t ordered anything personally, but the review was good and they seem to produce something at least close to a flat, roomy winterboot for really cold weather.

    And now I have just ordered from the new company called MyMayu, who make waterproof boots that got also very good reviews. What I like about those boots are that they are more like a shell (it’s basically just a flexible rubber sole with waterproof nylon sewn to it, which is tightened at the ankle and at the top). They do have a toe spring, but they were otherwise designed to be flexible, flat and very roomy. If you need flexible, flat waterproof boots that can be adjusted to cold weather, this is one of the best options, as far as I can see. If anyone is interested, I can report back once I get them.

  3. Not really a kids shoe but the brand Rocket Dog has a shoe style called “wheelie” for women that’s zero drop, thin sole, and has a roomie toe box. Not a minimalist brand but a good shoe. No separate toes so it’s a little more appealing if you’re new to minimal shoes. Also it comes in lots of colors. For moms with older girls or even boys it’s good option. I found my pair for 11$.

  4. I love to troll kids shoe stores with my kids in tow, ask the salesperson if they have any unheeled, minimal shoes for my 12, or 9 or 7 year old. When they show me what they have, I gently point out that the shoe before me not only has a one or two! inch heel, but that the sole is inflexible and there is a narrow toe box that will not accommodate a growing foot. I shake my head and move on and the manager can see that money has walked out the door. If I keep asking, maybe the stores will start carrying minimal shoes and my kids will be able to try them on before we buy!

  5. I was SO excited to find a near-new pair of Vibram five-fingers for my granddaughter at my local thrift store yesterday! It will be quite a while before she’ll fit into this size, but I’ll be on the hunt for graduated sizes for her. I love mine. They’re my favorite pair of shoes.

  6. Katy – I was just looking at your picture with the list from your book. Here’s a sad correction for your next update…

    Merrell is no longer making their barefoot line for kids. They started selling out at REI last fall & I was told REI wasn’t carrying them any longer. Then I started digging & if you go to Merrell.com it redirects to Stride Rite.

    Long story short, it took me 5 very pointed emails and 2 phone calls to finally be told that they will no longer be manufacturing the barefoot line for kids. It’s a shame, they were great shoes and were our one “go-to” for our son.

  7. After many experiences like Juli’s in shoe shops I now buy my son’s shoes from Vivobarefoot. Camper also do a flat, flexible, wide toe box style with elastic laces which we use as a school shoe.

    But I am amazed at how many kids’ shoes I pick up which are almost completely solid through the sole, and cannot be flexed or twisted. “Kids’ feet need support” is the usual response I get when I comment on these bricks. If only high street shoe shops would look at the science rather than conventional ‘wisdom’ I would give them my money.

  8. I bought my girls shoes from Kidofit this Spring and they are really great (and pretty normal looking) and also picked them each up a pair of water shoes from Joe Fresh (Superstore brand in Canada) that are super cute and were only $8 each. They look like Mary Janes, if I had found them first I might have just saved myself nearly $100 in shoes…

  9. Great article! Thank you! My daughters and I mostly wear TOMS. My kids go barefooted a lot! Other times they wear Merrell or converse or regular tennis shoes. I wore heeled sandals to a wedding the other day. My feet hurt so bad until I changed back to flat shoes. 🙂 I was wondering what shoes you recommend for my boys to wear for basketball? My two that play are very tall and prefer “basketball” shoes. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? What about when they hurt their ankles? My 17yo hurt his ankle pretty bad last year. Are there good exercises he could/ should be doing to help them and/ or strengthen them? Thanks for all you do, Katy!

  10. I noticed that Pediped was not on the list of shoes for kids. They claim to be the “nexxt best thing to barefoot.” Is there a problem with the Pediped shoes (specifically for older children, the Pediped Flex line)? What about Stride Rite’s SRT line that also claims to encourage the natural stride of the foot? Thanks for your help! 🙂

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