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Picking Out Back to School Shoes in 2020

Aug 6, 2020

Yeah, we know. In 2020, the phrase “back to school” has quite a different feel than it usually does.

But although most kids in the Kalamazoo area will at least be starting the new academic year with online instruction, it’s still important that they begin the fall semester well prepared—and that includes a good pair of shoes.

After all, in all likelihood your kid will probably still need to burn some energy periodically throughout the day in order to keep focus, even if “recess” under these circumstances means a few laps around the block or shooting hoops in the driveway for 15 minutes. And even if your child happens to be exceptionally focused even without the need for “brain breaks,” regular exercise is still critically important for young bodies and minds—pandemic or not.

As a parent, the last thing you want is for pain and discomfort to limit your child’s fun and make focusing on their studies even more difficult. Which, again, is why you should not forget the importance of shoes! Even in 2020, they can make a big difference.

back to school

Check Those Old Shoes

As an adult, it’s very possible that your shoes seem to be holding up especially well this year. More time at home usually means less time in shoes. That can come with its own set of problems, but one of the benefits is less wear and tear, which increases their lifespan.

But that’s you. Kids, and especially young kids, often outgrow their shoes entirely before they have a chance to wear them out. This is why you need to check them regularly, even if they look like they’re still in good shape.

We recommend you check the fit on your child’s shoes once per month by gently pushing down on the front of the shoe when your child is wearing them. Ideally you want to feel at least a quarter of an inch of space between the longest toe and the front of the shoe.

Examine the shoes themselves as well. Do you notice worn down treads? Seams that appear to be stressed or splitting? Sides that are bulging outward, or toe boxes that are bent upward? These are also pretty good signs that the shoes are too small, falling apart, or both.

Oh, and one more thing: listen to your child. If he or she starts complaining that their feet are hurting or their shoes don’t fit, believe them!

Shoe Shopping with Your Child

If you’ve identified that your child’s old pair of shoes aren’t long for the world, the obvious next step is getting new ones.

As with everything else in 2020, that’s tricky. While shoe stores generally are open right now, each family has to make a personal decision about the amount of risk they want to take. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll presume you’re doing your shopping with your child in person, but we’ll also add some suggestions later on for parents who aren’t comfortable with that and would prefer to shop online.

Here are a few key suggestions to help you find a great pair:

  • Take your child with you. Shoe shopping may not be their idea of a fun family activity, but it is important that they have a chance to see the shoes and test out the fit in person. (Due to COVID-19, however, we’d recommend you limit the trip to one parent and one child if possible.)
  • Bring the right socks. Remember, socks have width, too! If you’re buying athletic shoes for the fall and your child is wearing thick, woolly socks, the fit won’t be right.
  • Go later in the day. Feet have a tendency to swell up a bit by evening, so shopping later means you fit the shoes to your child’s feet when they are at their largest current extent.
  • Measure both feet. Often one foot is slightly larger than the other, so make sure any pair of shoes you buy fit the larger foot.
  • Check the shoe over. You generally want to look for shoes with firm heel counters (that don’t collapse when you press on them), have good arch support and cushioned insoles, can’t be twisted easily (rigid midsole), and flex gently (but don’t fold) when you try to bend the toe boxes upward. Shoes with these attributes tend to be solidly built and will complement the natural motion of the feet while still providing durable support.
  • Check the fit. For a new shoe, you’re looking for closer to half an inch of space between the longest toe and the front of the shoe.
  • Test the shoes out by walking a bit in them. Shoes should be comfortable to walk in for your child almost immediately. Don’t expect a “break in” period to salvage a painful pair of shoes—it isn’t going to work, and you’ll just be causing pain for your child.

Remember to be safe and courteous as you shop. Wear your masks, social distance, and apply some hand sanitizer before handling a pair of shoes!

Common Mistakes to Avoid

The above tips should give you a lot of crucial information for selecting a great pair. But it’s also important to know what not to do:

  • Don’t choose used shoes or hand-me-downs. Unless your kid is still pre-walking age, used shoes are a definite hard pass. They can irritate your child’s feet due to previous wear patterns. They also start out a little beat up (so they’re less able to support and cushion properly) and they can greatly increase the risk of warts and athlete’s foot, to boot.
  • Don’t intentionally buy shoes that are too big. You child doesn’t need shoes they can “grow into,” they need shoes that fit them now. Shoes that are too big can be painful and increase the risk of tripping and injuries.
back to school

Online Shopping?

Given the still-present risk of COVID-19, as well as the fact that certain family members might be considered high risk, some parents may have heightened concerns about shopping at a public store. This is a personal choice you have to make, of course.

If you do go the online route, the main thing we want to caution you against is “settling” for shoes that don’t quite fit right or meet the minimum standards. When you’re talking about foundational support for your child’s entire body, “close enough” really isn’t close enough.

So, when you get those shoes, go through the same process of testing the shoe, testing the fit, and having your child try them on. But if they aren’t right, don’t be afraid to send them back and try again.

Obviously, it’s best if you can find a retailer with a very generous return policy. Selecting same-day curbside pickup from a local retailer, rather than waiting days (or weeks) for shipping, is also going to be extremely helpful.

Keeping Your Little One’s Feet Prepared Is Always a High Priority

Most people associate “foot problems” with middle-aged and older adults, but that’s not completely accurate.

Lots of kids struggle with foot and ankle pain, including as a result of genetically inherited foot structures or conditions. The earlier these conditions are identified and addressed, the more comfortable your child is going to be—and the less likely those problems will continue to frustrate them as they grow into adulthood.

If your child is going through foot or ankle pain that even a nice new pair of shoes can’t fix, give the team at Kalamazoo Podiatry a call today. We specialize in all aspects of foot and ankle care, including pediatrics. We’re also taking extensive precautions to keep our patients safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. To request an appointment, reach out online, or call our office today at (269) 373-1019.

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