(BPT) - For parents faced with kids' changing tastes and opinions, navigating back-to-school shopping can be a harrowing process. Buy him the wrong backpack and he'll be the uncool kid on the bus. Pick out the wrong jeans for her and she'll be shamed by society. While neither scenario will cause kids any real harm, there is one area of back-to-school shopping where a wrong move could have health ramifications for kids - shoe shopping.
'Foot health is directly related to overall health, no matter your age,' says Dr. Matthew G. Garoufalis, a podiatrist and immediate past president of the American Podiatric Medical Association. 'Proper footwear is essential to foot health, so it's important for parents to ensure kids go back to school with a good foundation on their feet. Shoes are one of the most important back-to-school purchases parents will make.'
Children's feet change and grow with them, and parents may find they need to update their kids' shoes and socks every few months to accommodate this growth. Shoes that don't fit properly can irritate the feet and affect how well a child walks, runs and plays. Garoufalis offers parents some advice for finding shoes that are good for kids' feet and also live up to their exacting tastes:
* Always buy new, never used, and never hand down footwear. Sharing shoes can spread fungi like athlete's foot. What's more, children's feet are as unique as they are. A shoe that fits one child comfortably may not fit another child as well. Plus, shoes that have been worn will tend to conform to the foot of the wearer, and may be uncomfortable for anyone else to put on.
* Test the shoe before allowing a child to try it on. Check for a stiff heel by pressing on both sides of the heel counter; it shouldn't collapse under the pressure. Bend the shoe with your hands to ensure it will bend with your child's toes; it shouldn't be too stiff. Try twisting the shoe; it should be rigid in the middle and never twist in that area.
* Go shopping together. Shopping with your child ensures you can have his foot professionally measured, that he can test the shoe for a proper fit, give you his opinion of it and learn from you the finer points of buying a good shoe. 'Kids who learn how to select a comfortable, supportive shoe may be less likely to make wrong footwear choices as adults - which could save them a lot of discomfort,' Garoufalis says.
* Remember to shop for shoes later in the day when feet are at their largest, and always buy for the larger foot. Having your child's feet measured will help identify which foot is larger. Additionally, remember to have the child wear the type of socks or tights he or she will most likely wear with the shoe.
* Avoid buying shoes that need a 'break-in' period. Optimal footwear should be comfortable right away. Once the school year is underway, keep an eye on your child's shoes - active kids may wear out footwear faster than adults. Be vigilant for signs of irritation, such as your child always wanting to remove one or both shoes. The footwear may no longer fit properly, especially if it's been a few months since you bought the shoes.
Finally, be sure children wear shoes that are appropriate for their activities. If your daughter plays sports, she should wear a good athletic shoe designed for that sport. If your son is a runner, he'll need a good running shoe. For daily wear when kids do a lot of walking, choose a good, supportive shoe. Keep sandals, flip-flops and heels for occasional wear only.
If your child complains of foot pain or experiences an injury, take him or her to a podiatrist. Podiatrists are uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat ailments of the feet. You can learn more about foot health and find a podiatrist in your area by visiting www.apma.org.