Shoes have never really felt good on my feet growing up. They’ve always felt too narrow or too bulky, and yet I would always wear them when leaving home. Because shoes were suppose to be good for you. And if my shoes didn’t feel right or I started getting pains in my feet and knees, well, then more supportive and more corrective shoes seemed the answer. And not just for me. I mean, who hasn’t had some guy at a sports store tell you that your gait was wrong, and that you needed to have a bigger sole/better arch support/more gel in the heel to make sure you wouldn’t get an injury? Ironically the more I did to prevent the pains that began in my teens and got really bad in early adulthood, the worse it seemed to get. It got so bad at one point that I had trouble walking without getting pains in both of my forefeet and I ended up spending a whole lot of money on different arch support solutions – some more invasive than others, but they never worked.
When my feet were at their worst I went to study abroad in New Zealand. Here I joined the local hiking club and went on several hiking trips, where I encountered a handful of people who hiked barefoot. At the time I remember thinking they were completely ludicrous, but looking back I now realise that my enourmous hiking boots were the anomaly. While having been away, Ben had looked into fiver fingers shoes for running, and when I got back he introduced me to the whole idea of barefoot running. I didn’t take me long before I was hooked, and I even took it a step further and got into minimalist footwear for everyday use and barefoot walking. I’ve never looked back and today I have absolutely no problems with my feet other than the few times where I’ve had to wear very restrictive footwear for some fancy occasions.
I often wished I’d listened to my feet more when I was a child or at least a teenager, because even though I didn’t feel any pain back then, I was clearly doing a lot of damage. The problems might first present themselves later in life even if you or your children seem fine now. And that’s something I keep reminding myself of, if people wonder why none of us are wearing shoes or are in five fingers.
It should be no surprise to anyone that I want to prevent Eva having the same problems with her feet as I did. And that’s why we let her go barefoot as much as she possible can and wants to and put her in minimalist footwear for the times where going barefoot or wearing only socks are not an option. It’s quite easy when at home. Here she prefers wearing nothing on her feet or sometimes socks when it’s cold and she sees us wearing them, but it can be more of a challenge when leaving the apartement since we live in a big city and because of the cultural norms that dictates shoes. Yet we still try to let her go barefoot whenever possible and there are several reasons for that.
Five reasons to let your children go barefoot whenever possible
1. It not only strengthens the feet, but also the body.
The bones in children’s feet are not hardened until they turn about 18, give or take – and that’s years, not months! That means the feet are mouldeable and putting them in restrictive and corrective footwear from before they can even walk proper means mishaping and even deforming their feet.
By walking barefoot your children’s toes are allowed to spread, they are not tilted forward by a heel incline or prevented in bending their feet because of a stiff sole. This helps strengthen the muscles in their feet and in their ankles which in the end helps them develop a good balance and posture. We have often gotten comments on how great a balance and control over her body Eva has and think a lot of this has to do with her being allowed to go barefoot and only ever haven worn minimalist shoes.
I also know from first hand experience how damaging shoes can be to the body. When I ditched my old shoes and started going barefoot and wearing nothing but minimalist shoes something happened. My posture got better (though it can still be improved upon), I got a better awareness of my body and how I moved – and the pains in my feet, knees, hips and back slowly dissapeared only to return shortly at the end of my pregnancy.
2. It’s safer.
Besides fashion, I know the main reason people put shoes on their feet are because of safety concerns. But when you loose contact with the surface you’re walking on, it actually becomes much more unsafe. When you walk barefoot you become more aware of the ground you’re walking on as your feet are getting much more feedback from the ground this way. You feel the ground in a different way and walk more gently noticing much quicker if you’re about to step on something sharp, thereby making it possible to adjust where and how you step down.
But I get that walking barefoot in the big city might not have the biggest appeal – I primarily wear shoes when walking around in the city because of all the trash that unfortunally seems to be everywhere, including an astounding amount of broken glass and other sharp objects. Here it’s a good idea to pick a pair of good minimalist shoes. Of course you could simply walk around it, but I’ve often still chosen for me and Eva to keep the shoes on until we’ve reached the park or playground, though I’m starting to loosen up now Eva has gotten older and more aware of where’s she’s walking. Same goes for winter. I know some barefooters will disregard the snow and temperatures below zero without any issues, but I must admit both me and Ben are more moderate in that regard and prefer to put both ourselves and Eva in minimalist shoes or boots during the cold times.
3. It’s helps develop a normal gait.
I accidently bought Eva a pair of shoes that proclaimed to be flexible and minimalist, but really wasn’t. I tried putting them on Eva and she started stomping around. Like she couldn’t really figure out how to walk anymore, and she suddenly got really clumpsy. Those shoes were of course immidiately returned, but they were a great reminder of why I spend so much time finding the most minimalist shoes I can and let her play barefoot whenever possible.
I’ve always been told that shoes can help improve my gait, but really they just change it. And not for the better. The higher the heel, the narrower the toe box, the more arch support and the more rigid the sole, the worse it seems to be. I use to walk and run with bigger steps and stomp my heel into the ground – and that’s just what I was aware of. Seeing I had a lot of pain in my knees, hips, feet and back that went away when it got rid of my so called normal shoes, I can only imagine what else shoes do to your gait and how you move.
4. It prevents fungus and other nasty stuff.
I use to have some kind of fear that going barefoot meant risking catching some kind of illness or disease from the ground. While I can’t completely disregard that this could happen, it is much, much more likely that your children will touch something with their hands, stick it in their mouths and contract something that way around. But that doesn’t mean you put your children in gloves all the time, so why would it be an argument to put them in shoes? Especially since shoes, unlike going barefoot, don’t allow the skin on your feet to breathe and instead tend to trap fungus and bacteria by providing a warm and damp environment for them to grow in. This can lead to athlete’s foot, toe fungus and shoes can even encourage ingrown toenails and the likes. Not something you want you children to experience.
5. It makes it easier and more fun to be physical active.
Children should be skipping about, climbing up and down obstacles, running and jumping around, balancing on whatever they can find and really just exploring their physical environment the best way they can. A restrictive shoe that doesn’t allow your children to naturally grasp with their feet when climbing or balancing or force them to run and walk in an unnatural manner will without a doubt have an influence on how much fun it is to run around and play. Instead going barefoot makes it much more fun to climb the monkey bars, jump in the mud or dig the toes in sand. Sure your children’s feet will get dirty, but probably not so much that they can’t be clean again.