Best Shoes for Toddlers: A Buying Guide

Once your baby starts getting around on her own two feet, the absolute best shoes for her are no shoes at all: When she’s barefoot, her tiny toes can grip the floor, giving her tootsies a total workout. But since her feet will need to be protected when she’s outside, here are some key things to know about buying toddler shoes.

The best shoes for toddlers are all about fit, form, and function, not fashion. Of course, there are plenty of cute kicks out there for tots that will fit both bills, so you should be able to apply these rules for buying toddler shoes to just about any style that catches your eye and, of course, your tot’s. Here’s how to pick out this essential piece of toddler gear:

  1. Take a measured approach. Don’t order your child’s first shoes online: Go to a shoe store with a separate kids’ department, or to a store that specializes in children’s shoes, and have a professional measure both of your little one’s feet before buying toddler shoes (if there’s a big difference between feet, aim to fit the larger size). Toddler’s feet can vary by as much as a half size. Keep in mind, too, that kids’ feet grow quickly, so you should re-measure your pup’s paws every two or three months to account for toddler growth.
  2. Bring her to her feet. Your child should be standing while being measured for shoes. Keep an eye on her toes: Tots tend to curl theirs under, but that will throw off the measurement.
  3. Put a sock in it. Your child’s shoe, that is. When she tries on shoes, she should have on the same type of socks she’ll likely wear with the shoes. This way you’ll get the fit just right.
  4. Stick out your thumb, and use it to make sure your little one’s big toe isn’t bumping up against the inside of the shoe. The best shoes for toddlers should allow for a thumb’s width (about half an inch) between her toe and the tip of the shoe.
  5. If the shoe fits, buy it in that size. When buying toddler shoes, don’t be tempted to go a little larger to try to get a few extra months of wear out of it. Too-big shoes are hard to walk in and could even be unsafe. If one foot is markedly bigger than the other, however, buy to fit the larger one.
  6. Check that heel. Watch your toddler walk in the shoe and hone in on the back of the shoe. If it looks loose or slips up and down, the friction could lead to blisters.
  7. Buck the trends. Pointy boots, clogs, and other high-fashion footwear may be adorable, but they aren’t the best shoes for toddlers who are still learning to walk — they won’t provide the support and stability a newbie needs.
  8. Mind the material. Even when you have your eye out for toddler sandals, look for a shoe made of canvas, cloth, or leather (rather than rubber or plastic), all of which are porous and allow air to circulate in and out, and also are flexible. You should be able to bend a toddler’s shoe in your hand without much effort.
  9. Get in the groove. Steer clear of treads that are smooth and slick, so a wobbly tot is less likely to slip and slide. Likewise, avoid shoe soles with deep grooves that could easily “catch” on the edge of a rug or sidewalk and trip up your tyke.
  10. Say thanks but no thanks to hand-me-downs. Unless you’re positive a pair of pre-worn shoes haven’t been worn all that much, turn them down. Shoes conform to the wearer’s feet fairly quickly and won’t fit a second child’s foot correctly.
  11. Let her be picky. A one-year-old may not give a hoot about the shoes she wears — or she may care a lot. If so, try to find a couple of options that would be appropriate and let her choose from among those.


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