Are Hand-Me-Down Shoes Bad for Kids?

May 13, 2021

Ask any parent and they’ll tell you: hand-me-downs definitely make life a lot easier—and more affordable!

After all, kids outgrow clothes, toys, strollers, and just about everything else at warp speed. Being able to reuse items from an older sibling or neighbor, or even just buy them used, makes a lot of sense the vast majority of time.

Unfortunately, it does not make sense for shoes. This is one area where spending a little extra and getting brand new footwear for your children’s feet is definitely worth it for your little one’s comfort and health.

Let’s talk a little bit about why.

Shoes Adapt to the Original Owner

Shoes don’t remain in brand new condition for very long. Wear them a few times, and they quickly start to get “broken in,” with the insoles and midsoles starting to conform to the unique foot shape of the wearer.

Just think of how different a pair of shoes feels even a week after putting them on for the first time at the store. It’s not just you getting comfortable with the new shoes, but also the shoes changing their shape in subtle ways to better accommodate you.

This is just as true for kids. All that standing, running, and playing they do is enough to form the footwear to their unique foot shape and biomechanics in a relatively short time frame.

Try to put another child’s feet in those same shoes, and they won’t quite fit the same. And unfortunately, this increases the risk of them developing painful foot problems.

Hand-Me-Down

Shoes Have a Limited Shelf Life

Of course, it’s not just that shoes change shape to accommodate the original owner. They also just wear down, period. Midsoles and insoles get compressed, soles lose their traction, and the shoes just can’t provide the level of cushioning and support that your little one needs.

Although kids might sometimes outgrow their shoes before they wear them down completely, the younger child getting the hand-me-down is still getting compromised footwear that may not be able to protect their feet properly for the full length of time that they’ll be wearing them.

Shoes Can Harbor Fungi, Viruses, and Bacteria

Feet aren’t exactly known for being the cleanest body parts, especially for hyperactive kids. Because shoes tend to be dark, warm, and moist, they make a tempting environment for the kinds of microorganisms that cause athlete’s foot, warts, foul odor, and other skin and nail irritations you’d rather not be introducing to your little ones!

When you pass hand-me-down shoes from one kid to another, you put the younger child at increased risk of these irritating and unpleasant infections. This is true even if the older child has no obvious foot problems, as different kids can react differently to exposure for various reasons (including whether or not they have any breaks in the skin for a wart-causing virus to enter).

The Exception: Baby Shoes

Baby shoes may be exempt from the “no hand-me-down” rule, since they generally aren’t able to run around and break down footwear as much as older kids. So, if a pair of baby shoes is in good condition, shows no signs of forming to another child’s feet, and is clean, you can pass them on if you’d like.

For toddler shoes, exercise good judgment. Often for kids just learning to walk, we recommend that they go barefoot indoors (to help with foot development) and only wear shoes for outdoor protection. So they may outgrow their shoes with very little wear and tear.

Otherwise, you should ditch old shoes once their previous owner has outgrown them, or if they start to show signs of use. 

Finding the Perfect Shoes for Your Child

Now that you know when to get rid of those old shoes, it’s time to take your child shoe shopping. Here are some things to take into consideration when looking for the perfect pair of shoes for your son or daughter:

  • If your child is old enough, take them shoe shopping with you. It’s always better to let them try shoes out and make sure they feel comfortable before you buy. Plus, your child may appreciate being involved in the decision-making process.
  • Leave about a thumb’s width of wiggle room between the front of the shoe and the longest toe.
  • Slide your index finger down to the second knuckle between the heel and the back of the shoe. If it’s too tight, they are not the right fit.
  • Buy shoes that offer plenty of arch support and heel cushioning.  
  • Consider the specific activities your child will be engaging in. You can ask a shoe store employee to help you find the best fit for your child’s sports of choice.
  • NEVER buy shoes that are too big for your child’s feet. You may think you’re being smart by getting shoes they can “grow into,” but the truth is that shoes that are too big can be just as damaging as those that are too small.

And if you have any questions about your child’s foot health, or need more guidance on how to find the best pair of shoes for your little one, you can count on our team of experts at Patel Podiatry to steer you in the right direction.

Find Expert Pediatric Foot Care at Patel Podiatry

Getting the best footwear for your kid is an important part of helping them grow up with healthy feet. So to be safe, it’s better to skip the hand-me-down children’s shoes. Instead, let our team at Patel Podiatry help you invest in your child’s foot health.

Contact our Connecticut offices by calling us to make an appointment: 203-876-7736 for Milford, or 203-288-4055 for Hamden. You can also take advantage of our online contact form to have a member of our staff reach out to you.