Caring for Kids' Feet
Foot concerns are common in my family. My paternal grandmother, who has always loved high heels, has had several foot surgeries to reduce various pains and ailments over the years. Some of my earliest memories of my maternal grandmother are of watching her soothe her feet after a long day’s work. I would sit next to her on her bed as gospel music played on her tiny radio, and she rubbed various creams on her toes and heels to reduce redness and swelling. She’d then slip her feet into the most dainty, silky, grandmotherly slippers.
My mother, blessed to be without persistent foot troubles, has nevertheless stayed true to a foot care routine that involves warm soaks, oils, salt or sugar scrubs, and do-it-yourself pedicures that rival any professional’s. Perhaps it is her thoughtful attention to her feet that have kept her so bouncy and active for so long.
As for me, I have never taken good care of my feet, which are usually barely protected in thin flip-flops that I wear year-round. I have been known to walk barefoot on concrete and asphalt. I have a slight disdain for socks.
It is no surprise then that I am starting to have foot problems of my own.
Family history and my own foot care habits have gotten me thinking about my son’s adorable feet. Those beautiful feet we took pictures of when he was a newborn and make painted prints of still to this day. Those tiny, sweet toes that I pretend to munch on to both of our delight.
How can I keep my toddler’s feet well taken care of throughout early childhood and help him avoid foot problems later in life?
My friend and neighbor, Jamie Vanbeber, and her husband Jonathan gave me some easy-to-follow advice—seek specialists when it comes to shoe shopping for our little ones. Shoe stores and companies that specialize in kids wear are more likely to have what Jamie described as “much patience in sizing tiny feet,” thus making sure shoes fit properly. “Our favorite shoe stores for ensuring a stress-free experience have been Trippets, Felts Shoes and Finish Line,” said Jamie about shopping with her two-year old son, Morris. “Trippets and Felts also have fun play areas for the kids, so finding shoes is on their time.”
Dr. Maureen Crotty, a podiatrist with Green Country Podiatry Center, agreed on the importance of having children professionally fitted for shoes. “Shoes not fitting properly could put undue stress on toes which can cause growth plates to close early and lead to deformities,” wrote Dr. Crotty by email. When babies first begin to walk, shoes that protect but are still flexible are best for proper muscle and joint development. Yet, Dr. Crotty noted, “As children get into sports they need shoes that protect and support. The shoe should match the sport, so going to specialty stores is best. Fit and quality are always important.”
Though the cost savings may be tempting, Dr. Crotty warned against passing down shoes from one child to the next. “Deformities that are present with one child can lead to deformities in another due to the wear patterns in the shoes. Contagions such as fungus (athlete’s foot) or virus (warts) may be passed from one child to another.”
That doesn’t mean you have to rule out all low-cost options. “We have found some good deals,” reports the Vanbebers. “[Morris’s] snow boots this year are brand new and came from a garage sale for 25 cents. You can’t beat that.”
And what about pampering our darlings’ little feet with massages, oils, and creams? According to Dr. Crotty, foot massages are good for bonding, but are not necessary. At a minimum, Dr. Crotty recommended the following basic foot care routine:, 1) “nails should be trimmed straight across to prevent infections, not torn or cut along sides,” 2) “alternate shoes daily— do not wear the same pair two days in a row,” and 3) to prevent smelly feet, allow shoes to dry over 24 hours—“the odor comes from bacteria that likes the moisture in shoes.” Socks that wick moisture away also help with decreasing foot odor, along with changing socks after they get damp.
And for all of us wannabe barefooters, take heart; we are not completely off base. Going barefoot around the house is okay every now and then, especially for infants learning how to walk. Even flip-flops are okay… sometimes… at the pool. But watch your toes!
GENERAL PEDIATRIC FOOT CARE TIPS FROM DR. CROTTY:
• Foot problems among children are mostly inherited or congenital. “A podiatric evaluation at an early stage could prevent more serious problems down the road.”
• Velcro and slip-on shoes may be easiest for putting on and taking off, but lace shoes are the best for keeping kids’ feet in their places. “Sliding [in the shoe] causes them to grip the toes which can lead to contractures and deformities such as hammertoes.”
• Arch and heel support should start around age 4—babies have fat in their arches until about that age, making their feet look flat (and adorably plump, I might add!)