Whether your baby is starting to toddle around on their little feet and it's time to get their first pair of walking shoes, or you're preparing for the start of a new school term, it's important kids wear the correct shoe size.
In this guide, we'll look at why it's important to measure foot size for kids, why they need well-fitting shoes, and, importantly, how to measure shoe size.
Why it's important to get your kids the correct shoe size
Wearing the wrong shoe size can cause problems whether the shoes are too big or too small.
If your child's shoes are too big, painful blisters are the most likely short term problem. However, in the long-term, footwear that are too big can cause bunions, calluses and even result in walking in a dysfunctional way. A bit of wiggle room is important but too much will result in problems later down the line.
According to experts, our bones continue to grow in length until the ages of 16-18 and don't fully ossify until our late 20s. It means that children's bones, particularly smaller bones like in the feet, are particularly pliable and susceptible to manipulation.
As a result, wearing shoes (and even socks) that are too tight can affect how the bones in your child's feet grow, which also can also lead to long-term problems.
Most supermarkets and fashion retailers will sell kids footwear - especially for babies and toddlers - sized by age range (newborn, 0-3 months, 3-6 months etc). It's easy for us to continue with what we know, but this sizing method often leaves our kids wearing the wrong size.
8 factors that can affect the way a shoe fits
Most of us tend to think of shoe sizes as foot length - the distance from the heel to the big toe. But there are plenty of factors that impact how (and whether or not) a shoe fits.
As you're probably aware from buying your own footwear, there is no industry standard for shoe sizing. That means the right shoe size with one brand might be the wrong size in another.
2. Type of shoe
The type of shoe you're buying will also have an affect on how the shoe fits. The style and design of certain types of footwear sit much flatter and wider, while others are much tighter. It's always a good idea to measure your child's feet against each type of shoe, and don't be surprised if you find you child needing to go up to a larger size.
Even the type of socks you are wearing have an impact on how different types of shoe fit around the foot. If you're taking your little one to get their first pair of football boots, definitely take a pair of football socks with them so you can be sure you've got an accurate measurement.
4. Foot length
A lot of people believe the foot length measurement is taken from the back of the heel to the tip of the big toe. However, many people have one or two toes that are longer than their big one. And so the measurement should be taken from the back of the heel to the top of the longest toe.
5. Foot width
Many podiatrists will argue that foot length and width measurement are just as important as each other. Having shoes that are too tight across the width will not only leaving your child feeling uncomfortable, they can also affect the growth and development of the bones in the foot. If the toe box is too small, over time the bones of the foot will squeeze together, which could even result in the toes overlapping each other over time.
Children's shoe width sizes (UK)
D = Very narrow
F = Standard fit
G = Wide fit
H = Extra wide fit
Children's shoe width sizes (US)
B = Standard
D = Wide fit
E = Extra wide
You may find you need to buy wide width footwear for your child to ensure the perfect fit.
6. Foot shape
Foot shape also has a bearing on how well a shoe fits, particularly when it comes to the arch of the foot. Some people naturally have quite a flat foot while others have a high arch on the instep of their foot. People with high arches may need arch support in their footwear to avoid over-pronation. It may not be something that troubles your child right away, but they may need extra support in their shoes later down the line.
7. One foot being bigger than the other
Some people have one foot slightly bigger than the other, which will naturally mean one shoe will fit better than the other. This might be one slightly longer than the other, or one foot wider than the other.
In some cases, a specialist shoe store might allow you to purchase two different sizes. However, in most cases, you will have to purchase a pair of the same size. It's always best to buy for the larger foot.
8. Where in the world you are
The other difficulty you may have - especially when buying footwear while on holiday, or if you migrate to a different country - is that different countries use different sizing charts.
Some only have slight differences. For example, the UK and US use similar scales, with a half size to full size difference for men's footwear (ie. a size 10 in the UK = 10.5 or an 11 in the US), and two sizes for women's footwear (ie. a size 5 in the UK = 7 in the US). However, other areas, like Europe have a totally different scale.
Foot length (cm)
How to measure shoe size for kids
While it's always best to visit a specialist shoe retailer to get the most accurate measurement for your child's feet, we realise it's not always possible. You may not have a store near your house, or budget may be a factor. Shoes from stores that offer foot measurements often cost quite a lot more than from supermarkets or fashion retailers.
Don't worry though, there are still ways to get the perfect shoe size for your little one. Some retailers will have a wooden or plastic shoe size chart available for you to use (you probably remember them from when you were a kid!). Or, you can always do it at home.
Let's look at how to measure your shoe size at home and give you some tips to help check you've got the right shoe size after you've measured.
Wait until the end of the day - Our feet swell in size throughout the day, so it's always best to leave measuring feet and trying on shoes until later in the day. You don't want to measure your child's feet in the morning when they've been led down sleeping all night, only to find that the shoes are actually really tight around their feet later in the day.
Have them standing up - It can be tempting to allow your child to sit down while you measure their feet, especially for younger ones. However, the foot is at its most outstretched when you're stood up. Therefore, it's best to have them standing if you want to get the right fit.
How to measure foot length - Some shoe brands actually recommend drawing an outline of your foot with pen and paper, and then measuring it. But it feels like there's too much room for error with that method.
Here's your step-by-step guide (no pun intended!)...
- Standing on a hard floor, tell your child to stand with their heel back against a hard surface like a door or a wall. Place the ruler or measuring tape against the back of the hard surface and alongside the instep of the foot.
- Take the measurement to the tip of the longest toe. Remember, most hard rulers have a small space at either end before the measurements actually begin - so be sure to account for the difference when taking the measurement.
- If you need to, use something else with a hard edge to place at the tip of the longest toe so that it creates a cross section with the ruler or tape. This is particularly useful for people whose big toe is not their longest.
- Try to take the measurements in centimetres rather than inches.
- Add 1-1.5cm to the measurement and you've got your child's foot length.
- Don't forget to do both feet individually
Because most retailers and brands only size their footwear by foot length, you would be able to use this measurement to order shoes online. Almost all brands and retailers will have a size guide explaining the foot length associated with their sizes.
Alternatively, you buy a shoe size chart to measure your shoe size at home. Be careful, however. A shoe size chart can usually only be used to measure your foot length, not the width.
How to measure food width - Measuring the width is a little trickier, partially because most brands and retailers don't size their footwear by width. That's why we recommend visiting specialist shoe stores. Running shoes often do, but you're probably not ordering a pair of those for your baby or young child!
When it comes to measuring foot width, it's actually best to take two different measurements because different brands and retailers will use different measurements. Some will take a simple measurement from from side of your foot to the other, while others take measurements around the top of the foot.
Here's the step-by-step...
- Place a ruler or measuring tape down on a hard floor
- Try to place your child's foot as straight as possible over the ruler or tape, ensuring that the widest part of the foot is on the ruler or tape. The widest part is usually just below the bones of the toes.
- Take the measurement from the most outer points of the foot.
- Again, try to take it in centimetres
- And be sure to do both feet, because one could be wider than the other
- For this second one, you're going to need a measuring tape
- Again, place the tape down on a hard floor
- Place your child's foot as straight as possible over the tape, ensuring the widest part is over the tape.
- Bring both ends of the tape over the top of your foot, trying to keep the line as straight as possible.
- Without pulling the tape too tight, take the measurement where the two ends of the tape meet.
Shoes are sized on their width by letters, rather than numbers. And it's typically only on children's shoes from specialist brands and retailers than you'll see the letter included in the size.
How to judge the right shoe size
Now that you know how to measure your child's feet for shoes, it's time to focus on what happens when you're in store trying some on.
Try on shoes at the end of the day
As well as the best time to measure your feet, later in the day is also best for trying shoes on. For exactly the same reason, feet tend to swell throughout the day so they are going to be at their biggest later in the day.
Wear appropriate socks
The type of socks you wear when trying on shoes will affect how well they fit. So if you're looking to buy some shoes for the winter, it's best to have your child wear thicker one because they will likely be a wearing bigger pair to keep their feet warm in the colder months. Equally, if you're buying some shoes for the summer, it's best to try them with lighter, thinner ones.
Don't ask them how it feels
Obviously, you're not going to be able to ask a baby. However, if you're buying for a toddler or even a young school age child, kids don't really have full awareness of what a well fitting shoe feels like. If you ask them 'How do they feel?', you're probably going to get back the answer 'Good'. It's best to rely on the measurements you've taken and the feel around the shoe.
They should fit right right away
Children cost a lot of money, and when they grow out of things so quickly it's easy for us as parents to think 'they can grow into them'. The hope is that we won't have to buy more anytime soon and so we save money. But that's not the approach to take with shoes. They should fit well enough to wear straight away. That being said....
Leave enough room to grow
Children's shoes should have enough room for their feet to grow. A lot of people use their thumb to gauge how much room there is between the toes and the end of the shoe - with the general rule being at least a thumbnail between the toe. The problem with that is that everyone has different sized thumbs! Try to look for roughly 0.5 inches/1-1.5cm of space between the end of your child's toes and the end of the shoe.
Signs your kids are wearing the wrong shoe size
Depending on the material and design of the shoe, it can be pretty hard to tell whether or not there's enough space for their feet when trying them on.
However, there are some things to look out for that will help you determine the right shoe size. You can use these either on their current shoes or when trying on new ones in store.
How to tell if your child's shoes are too small
Your child complains that their shoes hurt
Your child is suddenly less active. It may be that they don't want to put their shoes on because they're uncomfortable
They're getting blisters
How to tell if your child's shoes are too big
Their shoe is slipping off their heel when walking (don't try to over-tighten laces or velcro straps to compensate, this will cause discomfort and pain for the top of the foot)
They are dragging the front of the shoe along the floor
They are tripping relatively often
They're getting blisters (yeah, it's a sign of them being too big as well)
Why is it important to measure foot size?
Wearing the wrong shoe size can not only lead to short-term problems like blisters, discomfort, pain, and falling over, but also result in long-term issues like impacting the development of the feet bones and walking is a dysfunctional way.
Why aren't there universal standard shoe sizes?
It would help, wouldn't it! There's no clear reason why there isn't a universal shoe size. It would seen each country or area thinks their system works well and isn't inclined to change.
Can I buy shoes online?
If you measure your child's foot size correctly at home, there's no reason why you can't buy shoes online. However, remember that most retailers don't offer alternative width shoes as standard - you may have to pay extra, or even be limited to certain styles.
That's why it's best to go to a specialists shoe brand or retailer (even online).
However, if you're not confident in measuring your child's foot size correctly, it's best to go into store if you can. The staff are specially trained and will be able to help you get the exact shoe size your child needs.
Why should I measure my child's feet in centimetres?
Using centimetres rather than inches gives a more accurate measurement. The retailer may well measure their sizes in inches, but you'd just need to convert it. It's definitely better to start with the more accurate.
What is a toe box?
The toe box is the area of the shoe where the toes sit. This is often the area of the shoe affected when we talk about width, because the widest part of the foot is usually just below the toes.
What if my child has different sized feet?
This is very common, so don't worry. In this case, it's always best to go with the larger size. It's easier to help fill the shoe on the smaller foot with an insole.