Shoes for the long run: How to keep your kids’ feet happy

The idea of hand-me-downs sounds pretty good in this economic climate, no?

In theory, yes, but the execution can be tricky.

Good intentions can easily be quashed by a high activity level, a harsh winter, a dive into a mud pit or any other number of adolescence-related wild cards.

Take Jamie Davison’s two sons, Eric, 13, and Adam, 9. Eric is as gentle as a teen can be with his clothes, shoes and playthings.

That’s good news for his younger brother, Adam, who at age 9 is in a good spot to inherit whatever Eric manages to keep intact.

“Nike withholds really, really well, and Eric has always taken really good care of all of his clothes and everything, so it’s been really simple to pass it down,” the Lawrence mom says, before laughing with her much more destructive boy, Adam. “Had it been the other way around and Adam would’ve been first — forget it, we would’ve been in so much trouble because Adam is really, really rough on his everything. Sorry, baby!”

Even with Eric’s gentle nature, Davison says there’s a certain segment of outerwear that’s difficult to keep in the hand-me-down rotation: shoes.

Between sports, growth spurts and seasonal changes, Davison guesses she buys shoes for Eric and Adam every two months. Sometimes it’s more often than that, depending on the sport being played or the everyday wear and tear.

Davison, along with Halston Rucker of Brown’s Shoe Fit Company, 829 Mass., and Kris Bailey, owner of Blue Dandelion, 841 Mass., offered some tips on how to get those shoes you get your kids for this school year to survive until they outgrow them and (possibly) beyond.

Get the most bang for your buck. This should go without saying, but buy the best shoes you can afford for your children.

Davison says that like many moms she thought she’d try to save money with her oldest son by buying him cheap shoes, figuring that at the rate he was growing, it would be silly to buy anything else. Turns out that’s not how it worked.

“When (Eric) was about 3 or 4 and really started to become active as a little toddler, it probably only took me a year to figure out he has to have a good shoe,” Davison says. “This is sad, but they have to be name-brand. Because they won’t last if we don’t.”

Rucker says he has many parents like Davison come in after disappointing experiences with cheaply made shoes.

“It always comes down to you get what you pay for,” Rucker says. “Certain brands are more durable than others. But it really just comes down to fit. If the shoe fits properly, it’s going to last a lot longer.”

Check the durability. Some shoes look great on the rack but can fall apart in no time flat when thrust into action by a busy child.

Rucker has some clues as to how to check for proper durability. The first test is to check the soles. He says to hold up a test shoe and press on both the heel and the tip. The shoe should bend where the ball of the foot would be rather than in the middle of the sole. If it make a “U” shape rather than a checkmark, you might not have the best shoe.

“That’s true with kids and adult shoes,” Rucker says of the bend test. “They’re made with different durability, though.”

He says that to check a shoe to see if it’s still good enough to live on as a hand-me-down, look at it from behind. If the inner wall of the shoe leans in or out, it’s probably too worn.

Bailey adds that for young children, she’s found that shoes made primarily of leather tend to wear best on little feet. And for the best fit, look for companies that make only kids’ shoes, rather than adult shoe companies moving into kids’ shoes, she says.

Buy big, but not too big. You probably want your kid to get shoes just a bit on the big side, since those growth spurts can come out of left field and when the mortgage payment is due. But be reasonable when thinking big, say our experts.

“With adult shoes you only have to do half the width of the thumb on there just to give extra flex of the dorsiflexion,” Rucker says, adding that with older children, it’s OK to buy them that big, but not much bigger.

The rule is slightly different for new walkers, says Bailey. You don’t want to go too big and make walking an even more difficult proposition.

“I try to recommend to people that if they’re buying their first pair of shoes for a child that’s just learning to walk, not to get them way too big because they just trip,” says the mom of four.

Know your soles. Infants and new walkers should start with soft-soled shoes and work up to something with a more rigid sole. This helps strengthen the muscles in their feet, Bailey says.

“When I was a child you needed to have the lace-up shoes to support the ankles of a new walking baby — that flat, hard-bottom sole. But the recommendation now is that you actually need to develop those muscles,” she adds. “The more flexible, the better. And sometimes people will come in and say they put a stiff shoe on their child at a store, a new walker, and they’ll say the child won’t walk in the shoes because they just don’t feel right.”

Weatherproof. If you are certain your kids’ shoes might have hand-me-down potential, it’s good to keep them fresh and happy by investing in a weatherproofing spray.

“You can buy it pretty much anywhere,” Rucker says. “Basically, just put three coats of that waterproofing spray on there and it helps close up some of the cells that’s in that mesh. And helps keep the stains off there in the first place.”

By Sarah Henning


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