I got an emailed request to write about toddlers going barefoot.
So, here goes . . .
First, let me remind folks that an email address to write me about the blog is given on the About page. I’m reluctant to put it too many places just because that encourages spammers. And I may not respond immediately, so give me some time.
Anyways, one of the questions I was asked about was temperature control. At what age is there good enough temperature control in a toddler for their feet not to get too cold, especially if they aren’t very good at telling us about it?
I haven’t seen any studies about this, but in answer I would keep in mind that human kids have gone barefoot a loooooonnnnnggggg time in all sorts of conditions. If feet were that easily damaged by chilly temperatures, nobody would have made it to adulthood and we would have died out. This has not just been at our roots in Africa, but all over the world (and don’t think for a moment that it doesn’t get cold in Africa at night).
I think that what applies to adults applies to toddlers, too. Shoes restrict blood flow, so naked feet can stay warmer to a lot colder temperatures than you’d think.
There is also nothing special about feet that doesn’t also apply to hands. As I’ve noted many times before, they are physiologically (and genetically, when it comes to gene expression) very similar. In addition, a toddler’s feet are much closer to their core, absolutely and relatively speaking, than any adult’s feet. (Let me explain that: their feet are absolutely closer because the toddlers are smaller in general; their feet are relatively closer because their legs are smaller, in relation to the rest of their body, because they haven’t grown out yet.)
So, if you are comfortable with your toddler being bare-handed, then you probably ought to be comfortable with your toddler being barefooted. If in doubt, just grab their foot (or hand) for a moment: if it feels cold, do something about it. Also, keep in mind that toddlers, even if pre-verbal, can probably do something on their own.
Our kids, when they were small, were wont to taking off all their clothing. (Yes, this is common.) When we decided we wanted them to wear more, we’d open up the windows. The house would cool down, and all of a sudden the kids would figure out how to put on their clothing.
One caveat on all this: I’ve been talking about cooler temperatures. When it comes to bare feet, don’t forget that outside asphalt can get very hot in the summertime. If your kid is barefoot, you should be barefoot, too, so you can test it. Note that this also applies to pets—it is very easy for them to burn their feet on sun-baked surfaces. If you cannot handle a surface barefoot, your pet shouldn’t have to, either.
The second question related to toddlers asked about their soft bones and whether modern-world concrete is too hard.
Again, I’ll relate this to adults.
Barefoot running shoes are designed to re-create a “natural,” barefoot running dynamic on “unnatural” surfaces like concrete, asphalt, red top, black top, etc. How can we have a barefoot running shoe? Doesn’t barefoot denote without shoes?
Choosing to run on non-yielding surfaces without the protection afforded by proper running shoes can be harmful to the foot and ankle and cause even more problems downstream from compensation patterns. So what really are these pedal marvels and why is everyone running to take their shoes off?
All I can say is that any podiatrist who says this has never actually tried hiking (or running) barefoot. They’ve never hiked over sunbaked clay, like I have. They’ve never hiked a place like Chaco Canyon, like I have.
It’s as if I’m suggesting something that’s not normal. Until the mid-1970s nobody wore a shoe with a cushioned heel; what we think is normal is profoundly and unquestionably abnormal. People say, “Well, now we run on concrete,” but I’ve run on almost every continent, and the entire world has been hard for a long time. The Serengeti where I run is hard.
OK, that’s for adults. What about for toddlers with softer bones?
Well, in the past they also grew up in these sorts of hard-surface environments. But another thing to keep in mind is that toddlers have tremendous fat pads—those provide a lot of cushioning. (They also caused misdiagnoses of flat feet because the pad obscured the arch.) I just don’t see how it could be a problem.
By the way, while writing this, I came upon the following page: Things Every Parent should know about their children’s feet. It’s more gobbledygook.
Here’s what they say about soft bones:
A baby’s foot contains more cartilage than bone, which, over time, will fuse and harden into adult bones. Although the structure of the foot develops fully by the first 2 years, the bones themselves will not fully develop and harden until around the age of 18. This is why it is crucial to have good shoes early on, so that the bones are allowed to develop naturally.
Uh, hello. If you put feet into shoes they are not developing naturally.
And then there is this:
Kids’ feet endure about 3 times more stress than the average adult foot. This is because of children’s high activity levels and greater proportion of high impact activities compared with adults. When was the last time you jumped out of a tree? Because of the high stress that a child’s foot endures, children should wear shoes with good shock absorption, a well-made foot bed, and durable soles.
Really? A kid might weight 40 pounds while an adult weighs 200 pounds. That would have to be a pretty tall tree just to equal the stress from each time the adult puts his foot down.
Anyways, toddlers ought to be able to go barefoot just fine. You need a little common sense with what they are walking on, but always keep in mind that, until not that long ago, shoes were a luxury that were reserved for adults (or only extremely cold temperatures).