As the weather warms up, your kids may want to kick off their shoes. In fact, if they’re not going to school, they might not put shoes on for most of the summer. They can play outside and relax inside barefoot and enjoy the freedom.
Or should they not go barefoot, for health reasons?
Benefits of going barefoot
We’re not born in shoes, so going barefoot may be the most natural choice. Some say that walking without shoes helps build the muscles in your feet and encourages a more natural gait. Barefoot walking can improve circulation and proprioception (a sense of your body’s placement and movement) and is good for balance and normal foot development in babies and toddlers.
However, we don’t usually walk on natural surfaces. Going barefoot on hard surfaces like streets, floors, patios, and playgrounds can cause foot pain. It can even lead to pain in the legs and back. And while kids are less likely to get tired from standing or walking on hard surfaces than adults, it takes more energy to walk on hard surfaces than on soft ones like grass.
Infections and infestations
Athlete’s foot, fungal infections, and even hookworm can take advantage of bare feet. Plantar warts are caused by a virus, and chiggers love bare feet.
While the bacteria, viruses, and fungi you encounter will be different in different places, shoes can protect your kids from the ones that hang out on the ground.
If kids go barefoot outdoors or in community areas like gyms or swimming pools, plan to wash their feet afterwards.
The most obvious danger of going barefoot is stepping on something sharp. Broken glass, a rusty nail, or sharp thorns can hurt if you step on them. This is most likely if you go barefoot outdoors, and it is a good reason to put on children’s shoes before they head outside.
Hot pavement can also hurt feet.
There are some studies that suggest that supportive shoes reduce the chances of foot injuries. However, there is also some research suggesting that bare feet result in more flexible feet in children, and higher arches. However, this research looked at children who were usually barefoot. Your school-age kids may not be in that group even if they go barefoot most of the time in the summer.
One thing is certain: well fitting, supportive shoes are better for kids than shoes that are too tight or which have extreme shapes (like pointy toes or high heels). Poor shoe choices can lead to deformed feet.
Wearing shoes that are too big can cause kids to tense up their toes to keep the shoes from slipping off. This can lead to pain, too.
The bottom line
While going barefoot some of the time is fine and may even have benefits, kids who are old enough to run and walk on hard surfaces for most of the day should wear well-fitting, supportive shoes most of the time. When they’re outdoors, kids are usually better off with shoes.