Barefoot play is a question we are often asked about as Podiatrists. Should my child be barefoot? Is it ok for my child to wear ‘barefoot’ style shoes? Will I be doing my child a disservice if I let them play barefoot? Obviously as a Podiatrist it’s incredibly difficult to make a broad generalisation without seeing each child and their feet… but here’s my perspective in a nutshell (in other words, without having seen your child’s feet!).
Generally speaking, barefoot play is fabulous for younger children. When I say younger children, I’m referring to the under 5s. Barefoot play has been found to improve a child’s proprioceptive feedback (essentially their spatial awareness) and aids their tactile sensation underfoot. This is great for younger kids as they’re still very much reliant on developing this sensory feedback during fine and gross motor play. There are always exceptions to the rule however… and these are the children that often end up visiting a podiatrist. These are the children whose parents notice something “not quite right”. Perhaps a history of delayed walking, toe-walking, incredibly flat feet… the list goes on. Now, not every one of these children who present with toe-walking, or flat feet must avoid barefoot play! But, they warrant an assessment before we go bantering that barefoot play is the bees-knees! Because for some children, it simply isn’t. There are some children who have incredibly lax ligaments (hypermobility) or low muscle tone. There are others who present with severe cases of toe walking and symptomatic flat feet… and these kids, generally speaking, are the ones who require some element of treatment, and as such, they tend to be the ones who we suggest avoid excessive barefoot play, because quite simply – they need support. And this support is usually by the way of good old fashioned supportive footwear (and in some instances, more).
So, if you’re looking for a “can I or can’t I” answer to your child’s barefoot play… then I say: go for it… providing that your child doesn’t complain of pain and providing you don’t notice something that doesn’t look quite right! For the vast majority of kids under 5, barefoot play is completely fine… and there are some great shoes out there that allow for “natural motion” during the younger years.
But, if you are that parent whose child likes to be picked up regularly, or whose child complains of foot or leg pain every time they’re barefoot, or perhaps they have one (or two) very “flat” looking feet in your “best parent guess” opinion, then I suggest you get yourself a podiatry appointment and flesh it out. Any good podiatrist who is familiar with kid’s conditions will do a thorough assessment and provide you with some great advice as to what is and what isn’t normal. Perhaps it is nothing? But for the peace of mind, it’s worth finding out.