Baby Shoes Cramp Your Kid’s Style – and Development
Most of us are well aware of the importance of touch; we let babies run their hands over carpets, squish mud through their fingers, shred paper to bits – all in the name of motor skills development. But we also tend to overlook one critical part of motor skills development, one vital point of contact.
Baby feet have more nerve endings per square centimeter than any other part of the body, making them important channels for sensory learning and development. Their feet also have anywhere between 100,000 to 2,00,000 exteroceptors – sensation points that gather information from the outside world and work together to keep track of body position, balance and movement.
What this means is that feet touch — even more than hands do. It starts in the womb, where touch is the motor skills development. At 8 weeks of gestation, the network of nerves that form the sense of touch begins to develop, and at the time of birth, touch is the most developed of all senses.
This is why babies respond to skin-to-skin contact, why they like to be held, why they like to feel objects, even if their eyes can’t yet focus on them. Touching – with hands and feet particularly – is how babies first learn about their world and is the foundation for their motor skills development development.
We may think we’re protecting our kids from infection or feeling cold by wrangling their flailing feet into booties, socks and baby shoes (they motor skills development simply from being exposed to cool temperatures and the risk of infection is very low if you pick your park wisely and watch out for animal excrement). But all we’re really doing is cramping their style, their toes, their touch – and their development.
While some experts argue that motor skills development, it may not always be practical for babies and toddlers to roam barefoot in every environment. But in case your love of teeny-tiny Converse is all-consuming, here are seven reasons you should chuck the Chucks:
Going barefoot helps develop proprioception.
This is fancy shorthand for motor skills development that builds a sense for one’s body parts in relation to the others and for the strength of effort employed in movement. It’s that unconscious part of you that knows how far your mouth is from your hand while you eat, or how much strength you’ll need to kick a ball two meters versus 20. Proprioceptive sensors are located in muscles, tendons, ligaments and capsules all over the body, including in the feet. Going barefoot helps develop this sense, laying the foundation for future coordination and enabling babies in real time, too, to respond better to their surroundings with the information gleaned from their feet on the ground.
Going barefoot helps develop mental focus.
When babies go barefoot, their brains receive sensory input from their feet (input that is dulled when they wear socks and absent when they wear shoes). They use that input to be more careful and watch their surroundings to avoid injury. This mental process requires them to block out other sensory distractions while they tune in to the ground below and suit their movements to the surface.
Going barefoot builds a healthy posture.
When babies wear socks and shoes while standing or walking, they have to use their eyes to get information about the surface. This means they look down a lot, and balance and posture become effortful. But when kids are running or walking barefoot, their bodies take in the information unconsciously and effortlessly through their feet, enabling them to balance better and walk straight, with their head up, more easily.
Going barefoot toughens their skin.
Yes, we all love the velvety softness of babies, but there is benefit in letting them lose that a little, at least on their feet. Going barefoot thickens the skin on the sole, making it more resistant to scratches and injuries (and thus more impermeable to the germs you fear).
Baby shoes impede optimal foot development.
Feet are complexly designed — toes spread and flex to grip and propel, arches support the full weight of the body and absorb the shock of movement. But most shoes taper at the front, restricting toes from their natural position. Soles tend to be stiff and inflexible, and elevated heels don’t strengthen arches, leaving children with flat feet. Baby shoes and toddler shoes can restrict growth and lead to foot problems in children. Going barefoot, however, develops important muscles and ligaments and strengthens the arch, making the foot stronger and, in turn, the body more agile.
Baby shoes trap bacteria and fungus.
Yes, dog poop is a more obvious source of infection to a bare foot. But wearing socks, booties and baby shoes for long stretches of time creates the perfect breeding ground – dark, restricted, and damp – for fungal infections such as athlete’s foot. While it’s not super common for babies or toddlers to catch these types of infections, going barefoot means they definitely won’t.
Your kid might thank you.
Going barefoot allows your child to experience many joyous sensory experiences like grass that tickles, sand that shifts, and mud that squishes. (It also opens up new avenues of gentle discipline; one staffer at TS distinctly remembers being forced to walk barefoot on wet grass – the horror! – when she refused to put her shoes on, an experience that “squicked out” her tiny, toddler, OCD heart so much she learned her lesson.)