Problems with the feet in childhood can easily lead to more permanent issues down the line – so what can you do to care for children’s feet and make sure they develop properly?

Children should learn to walk by going barefoot, according to one orthopaedist. “Kids don’t need special ‘first-step shoes’, as they’re often advertised nowadays,” says Dr Dietrich Bornemann, a specialist based in Berlin, Germany.

When they’re indoors, children should go barefoot or wear non-slip socks, he says; and when outdoors, they should wear light, breathable shoes – if any at all.

“The main thing is that the shoes fit,” he points out, noting that ideally there should be a finger-width gap between the big toe and end of the shoe.

“At the beach or on grass, it’s also best that children learning to walk go barefoot.”

Whether or not a child develops a foot misalignment doesn’t depend on footwear alone.

“Feet are shaped by genetics,” Bornemann says, adding that parents who want to know if their child is at risk should start by looking at their own feet.

If you notice any abnormalities in a child’s feet, such as a tendency for them to turn inwards, you should mention this to your paediatrician or make an appointment with an orthopaedist – “preferably before the child is four years old,” Bornemann says.

Children with a foot misalignment are generally prescribed physical therapy, or special shoe inserts in serious cases. With the help of the therapist, they learn how to strengthen specific foot muscles.

“It’s important to continue the exercises at home,” Bornemann says. For example, the child might be asked to grasp marbles with their toes, or stand on a towel and scrunch it up using their toes. “Walking on tiptoes or on the heels are also good exercises.”

Exercise in general is the best medicine, he says. “Let your children play outside and roam around.” That way, their little feet will develop as well as their genetic predisposition allows. – dpa