Tiny shoes sure are cute, but once you’re past the crib shoe phase and a kid is cruising, footwear needs to be more than cute. There are a lot of opinions out there about the right time to put them in real shoes—and what kind. To clear things up, we asked Robert M. Kay, MD, Vice Chief of the Children’s Orthopaedic Center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Keck-USC School of Medicine, for advice on choosing (and fitting) those first walking shoes.

ST: How do we know when little ones are ready for their first walking shoes?
Dr. Kay: There is no fixed age. Most children are ready for some protective covering for their feet when they are pulling to stand. This could either be true shoes with soles or softer foot coverings such as socks with bottom treads.

ST: That makes sense. What about the bare feet vs. structured sole vs. soft sole debate for early walkers? What’s your stance?
Dr. Kay: New walkers tend to do best in bare feet or soft-soled shoes. They benefit from the sensory feedback they get from feeling the foot contacting the floor. Stiff soles tend to limit this feedback and may be difficult for new walkers. I prefer soft shoes or bare feet for most who are starting to walk.
ST: Is ankle support a big factor?
Dr. Kay: Ankle support in shoes is not typically necessary, unless the child has a very flat foot. Typically, a child’s arch develops until 8 to 10 years of age. There is no special shoe wear (or brace) that alters this natural development.
ST: And how about sizing? Should we measure our babies’ feet with a device at home? Like with that gizmo Squatchi?
Dr. Kay: Measuring the feet is fine, but there is no substitute for seeing how the child’s foot fits in a new shoe. Squatchi can facilitate the sizing process, but it is not a substitute for seeing how the new shoes fit.

ST: And how should shoes fit? Do we trust the shoe salesperson to get the size right?
Dr. Kay: Though salespeople generally do get it right, I recommend checking to make sure there is ample space (1 to 2 finger widths) between the tips of the toes and the end of the shoe when the child is standing. Shoe sizes can vary between companies, so you can’t always know the size before your child goes to the store.

ST: When our baby outgrows a size, do we automatically buy the next size up? Or do we need to go back to the store and get resized?
Dr. Kay: I recommend re-sizing and then checking the fit of the new shoe with the child standing.

ST: Got it. And when the shoes don’t fit anymore, is it okay to hand them down to younger siblings?
Dr. Kay: Hand-me-down shoes are fine to use, as long as there is not excessive wear. Children outgrow shoes rapidly, so hand-me-down shoes are often a good solution (as well as a way to save the Earth’s resources).
ST: True, that. Thank you, Dr. Kay!