Most children are born with beautiful feet that work perfectly. If left to their own devices, the feet would develop to be strong and wonderfully responsive to the child’s movement. However, unthinkingly we put inflexible shoes onto our children’s feet and essentially put the feet into a cast. No longer can the feet and toes react normally to the child’s walking, running and jumping. The muscles supporting the feet no longer have to work. It really is akin to putting a neck brace on and expecting the neck muscles to remain strong despite the brace.
I am not advocating that children run around barefoot outside. As a mother myself, I do realise that all dog poo is a magnet for a child’s foot – almost no matter what age the child, it seems to me. No, the child’s feet do need protection from poo, sharp objects and inadvertent stubbing etc. However that protection should be as thin and as flexible as possible. Get hold of the shoe and twist it – the whole shoe should twist easily. If the shoe is thin soled, then so much the better since the foot can then also develop the natural pad and really be in contact with the floor beneath, causing the foot to develop its natural reactive strength.
I chose this clip since it is important to realise that going barefoot – or minimally shod – is actually a natural thing for a human foot. Stone age man almost certainly did wear foot protection – but that was for protection and not support and not made by Nike. For an adult to go to barefoot running is quite a transition, especially if rigid arched shoes have been worn frequently. It is not to be undertaken lightly. However all I’m trying to say is that a young child doesn’t have weak feet and ankles, mistiming muscles, short hamstrings etc. A young child is perfect if we catch it young enough, so let that perfection continue and flourish.
Of course as children get older, then foot problems may have already developed. So, like an adult, the child will benefit from good foot strengthening exercises. However if a clean area clear of stones/acorns etc can be found, it will do the older child good to cast off the trainers and run for a minute or two bare foot. The feet will be forced to wake up. I have adult clients who thought they could never run, and, free of shoes, find they actually can. It is quite an emotional experience for them. So if barefoot running is to be taken up by those coming out of ‘foot coffins’, then build slowly, pay attention to aches and pains, respect the process – and run.
A short clip showing a 4 year olds natural toe splay as the foot lands. We can see the pad on the sole of the foot which will protect it from cold, and is also the natural cushioning property of the foot. So the best shoes for your child are thin and flexible – and no shoes at all whenever it is safe.