The next time you get your child dressed for a day at the playground, you might want to leave their socks and shoes at home. While many parents wouldn’t consider sending their kids barefoot into the big, bad world, there are some persuasive reasons for doing so. (Here are 16 other things parents of young children want you to know.)
In fact, many experts believe that it’s actually better for a child’s health to go barefoot, such as parenting guru, teacher and author Kevin Geary, who claims that shoes are bad for kids because they hinder toe spread, which limits the proper function of the foot and prevents proper movement development. And that can increase the risk of foot and lower leg injury, he says. All that, and shoes can cause foot pain, as well.
The benefits of going without shoes are numerous, writes Geary on his website Revolutionary Parenting. Firstly, it helps a child develop body awareness because it enhances proprioception, the body’s ability to sense movement within joints and joint position. Because the soles of the feet have over 200,000 nerve endings (which explains their sensitivity—as anyone who can’t bear getting their feet tickled will understand) they make us more careful when we navigate surfaces we walk (and run, and climb, and dance) on.
And yes, mom and dad can benefit too: Going barefoot also strengthens the arches, ankles, feet and lower legs, increases agility and helps protect against injury. Studies have shown that people in cultures who do not typically wear shoes do not suffer from foot ailments or injuries that can affect balance and posture, such as corns, bunions, or ingrown toe nails.
Ditching shoes also increases children’s balance and helps them develop good posture. According to podiatrist Tracy Byrne, MD, who specializes in podopediatrics, wearing shoes at too young an age can hamper a child’s walking and cerebral development. “Toddlers keep their heads up more when they are walking barefoot,” she tells The Guardian. “The feedback they get from the ground means there is less need to look down, which is what puts them off balance and causes them to fall down.”
Foot expert Simon Wikler, DSC (Doctor of Surgical Chiropody), agrees that bare is best for our feet. In his book, Take Off Your Shoes and Walk, Wikler states that practically all shoes have no relation to the natural shape of the human foot. “Most adults’ foot trouble would either not exist or would be much less bothersome if properly shaped shoes had been worn during childhood or, better yet, if those people had gone barefoot,” he writes.
By the way, if your feet could talk, here’s what they might tell you!