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Dubai: Buckles? Velcro? Or laces? Should you go for the massive discount since your child will obviously “outgrow it in a few months”? These are some of the many questions that pop up in a parent’s mind when they are out shopping for schools shoes for their children.

During back-to-school season stores across the UAE offer huge sales on shoes and it is important to make the right choice so that your child’s physical health is not comprised on.

So, how do you make the right choice? Here are all your questions answered.

A child’s feet

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The bones in young feet don't fuse together until puberty, so children’s feet can lack muscle strength and be prone to hypermobility. This is why firm, supportive shoes help protect their feet while they're growing.

On any given school day, your child will spend anywhere between seven to 10 hours moving around in the shoes you bought them. Getting the fit right for school shoes, then, becomes a crucial decision that parents make.

Ministry of Education's school uniform guide. Image Credit: Ministry of Education website

Government schools in the UAE have a unified system, with uniforms that fit the country’s customs and culture. As part of the uniform, children are expected to wear formal black shoes on regular days and black or white sports shoes on days they have a physical exercise class.

It’s not just children who run the risk of wearing incorrectly fitted shoes. A 2018 study found that between 63-72 per cent of participants were wearing shoes that did not accommodate either width or length dimensions of their feet. The study was published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, which is the official publication of the Australian Podiatry Association and The College of Podiatry (UK). Your child will spend anywhere between 7 and 10 hours every week day in those shoes, so it is important to keep their comfort in mind.

Which shoe is better?

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Some podiatrists advise against the regular use of canvas shoes or plimsolls, as they do not provide enough support and cushioning. Instead, opt for leather shoes with laces or velcro fastening or sports shoes.

If you get the shoe size and shape wrong, the child could suffer from blisters and sores to foot disorders such as lesser toe deformity, corns and calluses. Dr Sami Tabib, a doctor of podiatric medicine, at the Chiropody Center in Dubai, said: “Ingrowing toenails, particularly of the great toe, are quite common in the early teen years. Ill-fitting shoes are the main culprit as the shoes squeeze the toes together and cause the nail to grow in.”

Get their feet measured

It is always advisable to get your child’s feet measured for length and width to find the best pair of shoes. Dr Tabib advised parents to not ignore the importance of the right width.

“Make sure both feet are measured because it is quite common for one foot to be a different size from the other. Always go with the size of the larger foot,” he said.

“Width is where we encounter the most problems. Schools require that children wear black formal shoes. These can be quite narrow at the forefoot, the front of the shoes. Narrow shoes cause toes to deform in the long run and cause ingrowing toenails in the short term. Therefore, I always recommend wide fitting comfortable shoes. Trainers (sports shoes) are ideal because they have the required width, flexibility and arch support. Unfortunately, many schools do not allow trainers to be worn and insist that children wear formal shoes. I disagree with that. A black trainer without a logo can be appropriate for school,” he added.

Make sure both feet are measured because it is quite common for one foot to be a different size from the other. Always go with the size of the larger foot.

- Dr Sami Tabib, Podiatrist

Avoid buying a size smaller or bigger. While some parents might buy a slightly snug fit, expecting that the child will ‘wear them in, others might be tempted to buy a size bigger, anticipating a growth spurt. Podiatrists warn against making such shopping decision. So, how do you know that the shoe size is just right? “There should be a thumb width of space between the end of the shoe and the end of the longest toe, which could be the big toe or the second toe,” Dr Tabib said.

Look for unusual wear and tear

Inspect your child’s shoes regularly for unusual wear. If the shoe is wearing off a lot more from the heel or from the toe or a side, it might indicate that there is a problem with their posture and should be raised with a professional.

Also, look at your children’s feet. Are they inflamed around the nails? Can you see red pressure marks on the top of the small joints of the toes, below the ankle bones and at the back of the heel? All these may be signs that the shoes no longer fit well.

Ask the right questions

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Even though children and parents could end up in a tug of war when it comes to style preferences and price points, it is important to speak with them and ask if they are comfortable with the shoe they are trying on. Children should be a part of the shopping decision.

Ask them to walk in the shoes for a few steps to check if there are any problems they face.

Sales can create a sense of urgency, it is best to take your time to find the right fit, especially since the perfect pair of shoes could cost a fair amount.

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When is it time for new shoes?

Just like the guidelines for buying new shoes, you can find out if the shoe your child is wearing is getting too small for his or her feet. If there is no gap between the big toe and the front of the shoe or if you see red pressure marks on your child's feet, get them a new pair of shoes.

Similarly, when the tread on the bottom of the shoe has worn away, this affects the shoe's grip, making them slippery. Also, if the shoe has too many scuff marks or if the sole is worn down, it is time to move to a new pair.

Why are some shoes so expensive?

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For parents out shopping, shoes can range anywhere between Dh50-Dh500. Why do some shoes cost more than others? For one, the quality of materials could vary significantly, with more expensive shoes stitched instead of being glued together. So, go for a good quality shoe that fits your child well, as feet problems will plague them for life.

Some shoes could also be using cardboard as the last piece, which runs through the sole of the shoe to help hold its shape, instead of more expensive polyurethane material. The material used in the lining should also be checked to see if it is made of breathable fabrics, which will reduce the bad odours from excessive sweating. A key factor in the hot summers of the UAE.

Also, ensure shoes have a cushioned thick sole with a good grip.