Inside: Read about the benefits of walking barefoot for kids and see a list of the best barefoot shoes for toddlers and kids.
When I was little, it was no big deal to stroll out the front door and into the yard with nothing but chipped toenail polish on my feet. I played all day and don’t remember so much as a thorn hurting my soles. But then again, that was the era of flimsy car seats (if any at all). I also remember standing up in the backseat of my dad’s truck as we flew down the interstate.
Naturally, parents are more safety-conscious in this decade. Thank goodness for that! But is there something to be said for letting your kiddo run wild with the dirt and lush green grass between their toes? Human development and advice from experts say, “definitely maybe.”
So let’s go over the benefits of walking barefoot
This should be one of the more obvious benefits. When we wear highly supportive shoes, we contribute to weakness and atrophy in our arches and ankles. That’s why kids that grew up in the era of the hard/high-top baby shoes grew up with flimsy ankles. Mothers assumed they needed the support to teach them to walk, but in reality, they set them up for a lifetime of sprains.
Going barefoot allows constant work from the functional muscles in the feet which will lead to a strong foundation for every movement they make throughout their lives. Think about how their feet will age. Having a strong foundation will keep them from visiting a podiatrist every 6 months in their golden years.
Keeps Nails Trim
If your child hates having their nails clipped there are many baby nail clipper products on the market to make the experience less stressful and slightly safer. Catch their toes once and they’ll never let you clip their nails again!
One of the sometimes overlooked benefits of being barefoot is that without something protecting your toenails the more you naturally wear them down. Okay, they might not look like you’ve just given your child a pedicure most of the time, but you might find you have to spend less time with the clippers and files the more time they spend barefoot.
The structure of the foot is established by around age 2. However, the bones continue to develop into adulthood. Therefore, cramming your child’s feet into ill-fitting shoes will alter the shape of their feet. If the toe box is too narrow, your child’s toes cannot spread out and they will begin to develop a bunion or hammertoe.
Most shoes, in fact, are too narrow. Kids should really wear shoes that are wide and allow their toes to spread and wiggle as they run. Going barefoot is a great alternative to shoes and something that you can practice at home. However, when you cannot go barefoot, it is worth looking into “barefoot shoes” which mimic the experience of going shoe-free. Experts stress the importance of allowing all of the fine muscles to move and work in their biologically designed manner because even the smallest deficit can wreak havoc on the shape and function of the foot.
Develops fine motor skills
When kids go barefoot, they are able to use their feet like the finely-tuned tools they are. They can feel the earth beneath them and adjust their steps accordingly. Their movements become natural and fluid because they can feel which way their body needs to move. Did you know that your feet have more sensitive nerve-endings per square centimeter than anywhere else on your body? Those nerve endings are essential for building the fine motor skills necessary for safe and efficient movement.
Kinesthetic awareness and proprioception (balance)
Kinesthetic awareness is when you know where your body is in space and how it moves. While proprioception is understanding where your body parts are in relation to other body parts. Both are essential for movement and exercise.
Going barefoot increases awareness for both of those senses. Enhanced sensory input, perception, and comprehension of that information can lead to better coordination, less falling, and overall safety. Think about a time when you missed the last step or tripped going up the steps because you had clunky shoes on. Now, what do you think wearing ill-fitting shoes throughout your childhood does for your overall coordination?
Sensory input and reflexology
Going back to how sensitive our feet are—Letting your child run and play barefoot allows them to take in all the sensory information from the ground, the trees they climb, the streams they wade through, etc.
From a holistic and osteopathic standpoint, many experts argue that going barefoot allows people to ground themselves, feel one with nature, and calm anxiety. They cite the earth’s electric charge for the benefits, which may be true. However, it’s not a widely accepted treatment for mental illness or any other ailment. But there’s something to be said for the anecdotal evidence that going barefoot can supply a myriad of wellness benefits including regulating the heart, calming anxiety, decreasing inflammation, improved blood flow, and regulated sleep.
Could it be that the ground stimulates reflex points that many osteopaths have used in treatment for years? Or going barefoot centers you with the earth and allows your body to take in its natural antioxidants? Studies are ongoing, but one thing is clear; Going barefoot seems to be advantageous and the practice is easy and safe to implement.
If you’re wondering how going barefoot can increase safety with the risks of stepping on rocks, sticks, or bees, think about this… The more developed and strong your child’s feet are, the more adept they are at climbing, leaping, running, etc. And the more coordinated they are, the less likely they are to fall, slip, or sprain something on the playground, on a hike, or in a sport. Taking care of their foundation leads to a strong, capable body later on. You’ll decrease pain from bunions, calluses, and tendinitis.
Going barefoot all of the time isn’t possible. We get that. But did you know that there are special shoes designed to allow your feet the full range of motion and absorption of sensory input while still shielding your soles from germs and safety hazards? Well, to point you in the right direction, I’m putting together a list of my favorite barefoot shoes for toddlers and kids.
These are good for kids and adults alike. They’re a little pricey, but they last. Plus, they’re made from vegan materials!Vivobarefoot Primus Sport II, Juniors Vegan Minimalistic Shoes, with Barefoot Sole
Ubfen Water Shoes
While these are labeled as water shoes, they are just fine for playing in the yard or walking the sidewalks. Consider the fact that they’re quick-drying and made to get wet as a bonus. Otherwise, these are nice flexible shoes with a wide-toe box.UBFEN Kids Water Shoes Aqua Socks Quick Dry Anti Slip Water Skin Barefoot Sports Swimming Beach Pool for Toddler Boys Girls
Merrell Bare Steps
Wow, check out the toy box on these! There’s plenty of room for those little piggies to stretch out. You’ll love that they don’t look any different than regular tennis shoes, making them perfect for dressier outfits, wearing to school, and hiking in the woods.Merrell unisex child Bare Steps Ridge Jr Hiking Shoe, Tan/Olive/Navy, 6 Wide Little Kid US
These look like your average mesh tennis shoe. However, these are minimalist meaning they are flexible, allowing your child to feel the ground beneath their feet. And they also feature the wide toe box that won’t squeeze and contour their toes as they grow. Overall, a great, quick-drying shoe for active kids.CIOR Boys & Girls Water Shoes Quick Drying Sports Aqua Athletic Sneakers Lightweight Sport Shoes(Toddler/Little Kid/Big Kid) U120WZ2001-M.Pink.Aqa-33
Breanna Leslie – yourcub.com
I’m a former therapist turned writer. I earned a master’s in psychology in 2015 but ultimately decided I’d like to be more present for my family. Currently, I’m a stay-at-home mother of two toddlers (with another baby on the way). I enjoy writing in the parenting and home/DIY niches. I also write fiction and have been published in a handful of literary magazines and a fiction anthology. In my spare time, I enjoy blogging, painting, running, and drinking an absurd amount of coffee!
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