Why and How to Let Your Kids Go Barefoot (Safely)
Do Kids Really Need Shoes?
What do you think when you see barefoot kids running around?
Do you shake your head and pity them?
Their mother must be negligent.
I know the looks because the barefoot kids are mine.
I wish I could say with integrity that their shoes are off because I don’t want any disturbance to the proper function and development of their feet.
The truth, however, is that in I’m lazy.
Locating socks and shoes may sound simple enough, but anyone with young children knows the struggle. My 4-year-old is never satisfied with the positioning of his socks, and always wants a particular pair of shoes. Usually not the ones I am presenting to him. Usually the most time-consuming ones to put on (think: high-top Converses with laces). I need to wrangle my rambunctious boys, and harness physical strength and patience to get those babies on their feet. I try to avoid getting frustrated with my little sweets. I pick my battles, and this isn’t one of them. I rather open the door and simply declare, “Let’s go outside!”
I’m lazy, yes, but not negligent. My intuition and 29-year-career of barefooting tells me that it’s a-okay to leave the shoes un-found when playing outside. However, I wouldn’t want to crumble into a pitiful puddle of mom shame if someone challenged me, so I did some research on the issue.
Below are four reasons to kick the shoes to the curb whenever possible:
1.) Going barefoot naturally protects children from getting hurt.
Kids are less likely to run on surfaces that aren’t comfortable, like concrete and gravel. A child in shoes may run full force on such surfaces, and suffer unpleasant consequences upon falling. However, the barefoot child runs more gingerly on rough surfaces, and faster on softer ones like grass, where a fall won’t be so bad.
I know what you’re thinking… Isn’t it shoes that protect children? Doesn’t going barefoot make them vulnerable to glass shards and other sharp objects? Yes, however, a bare-footer is highly aware of his surroundings. The bottoms of our feet our very sensitive for a reason- they quickly read, respond, and adapt to their environment. Not to mention, going barefoot often makes the bottoms of our feet thick and calloused- perfect built-in protection.
2.) If you’re worried about germs, they’re actually lurking inside of shoes.
Many people think shoes protect us from these offenses. However, they are actually the ideal places (dark, moist, and warm) for nasty bacteria and fungus to thrive. Shoes are the reason feet stink and people get athletes foot. Bare feet are exposed to fresh air and sunshine. They do get colored on the bottoms, but it’s nothing that doesn’t wash off in the tub. My 4-year-old doesn’t put his feet in his mouth, so whatevs.
3.) Going barefoot increases a child’s balance.
Tracy Byrne, a specialist of children’s feet, says being barefoot is necessary for the development of good posture, strength, and awareness of the world. She notes that toddlers keep their heads up more when they are walking barefoot. She explains, “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.”
4.) Too much time in shoes causes chronic injuries.
They change the way our feet naturally develop. Most adult feet are shaped differently than those of infants. A baby’s foot is widest at the toes, and an adult’s is widest at the ball. This is caused from years of “fitting” our feet into tapered-toe shoes. Adults in cultures that don’t wear shoes don’t suffer from these deformities, nor do they have corns, bunions, or ingrown toe nails.
These changes affect our posture and gait, which play a big role in the health of our joints and back.
Dr. Carol Frey, associate clinical professor of orthopedic surgery in Manhattan Beach, CA says, “Besides growing up around man-eating lions, there’s a good reason Kenyans have won the last 10 consecutive Boston Marathons: They rarely wear shoes. This makes their feet extremely strong and far less susceptible to disorders such as fallen arches.”
Health benefits aside, going barefoot feels good!
There’s nothing like spreading your toes wide and connecting with the textures and sensations beneath your feet. It’s a simple pleasure in life, one that shouldn’t be so taboo.
Don’t worry about the judgment of others- barefoot kids benefit from greater balance, a heightened awareness of their physical world, and the friction and grabbing capabilities of their feet.
Want to see a kid do some impressive climbing? Let her take her shoes off!