My four-year-old hates shoes. Vehemently hates shoes. Ever since he was a tiny baby. He has additional needs and sensory issues so that’s probably got a lot to do with it, but he was well-known locally as the kid that never wore shoes.
We tried everything! From super-light shoes with a bare-foot feel to great big bovver boots that he couldn’t get off- or so we thought, the child is the Harry Houdini of footwear- he gets out of everything. We took to incarcerating him in a cosytoes and putting his sister’s woolly tights under his trousers to avoid frostbite in the winter. He hated all of it and it caused a great deal of stress and worry.
E has gone to great lengths to demonstrate his displeasure for footwear. He’s thrown his trainers in the Thames, his Crocs out of the car, his sandals in the sea. I see now that he was trying to communicate with us – we just found it very annoying and stressful!
The worst part about having a child who refuses to keep his shoes on, is the disapproving looks you get from other people. The horror stories I was told as a kid stayed with me, stories about contracting diseases and hookworms through bare feet.
Still, it seems that I needn’t have worried. There are actual health benefits to barefoot walking apparently – especially for children. Now, we all know that it is a sin to buy a child cheap shoes as their little feet are developing and easily damaged- think Chinese foot binding- but barefoot walking is positively encouraged, especially for babies learning to walk. Being barefoot allows babies to receive important sensory information, it develops strength in the foot, and helps with balance.
Being barefoot does more for a child’s feet than allow them to develop healthily, all the evidence suggests that being barefoot is also good for brain development and mental health – who knew? Apparently, the feet are one of the most nerve-rich parts of the body and send important neurological and sensory information to our brains; wearing shoes interrupts this connection. Thinking about E, a child with sensory processing issues, he likes to feel what’s under his feet, it makes him feel secure and grounded. The proprioceptive system – the sensory system that enables us to know where and how our body is positioned in the space around us – tells us whether we are standing on soft grass or hard gravel without looking. Edoesn’t get this sensory information so easily and prefers to be barefoot. Another benefit of being barefoot is better mental health- walking barefoot on the grass is said to reduce anxiety and depression by 62%. There’s nothing better on a warm summer’s day than kicking off your shoes and feeling soft grass underfoot- that’s a definite mood enhancer!
Something else I have been reading about is earthing, or grounding. Initially, I thought it was a load of old bunkum, but, as I learn more about it, I can see the logic. Grounding is about connecting electronically with the earth. I’m no scientist but the gist is that the earth is a huge source of electrons that benefit the human body by reducing the excess positive charge in our cells. Modern life is full of electromagnetic radiation and our connection with the earth is prevented by the rubber and plastic soles on our shoes. In danger now of sounding a bit tin foil hat, the emerging advice is to walk barefoot for 30-minutes each day. I don’t know enough about this yet, but I think it’s a no-brainer. Walking barefoot on grass or sand or swimming in the sea is delightful. It feels nice, it makes you feel good and it lifts your mood which, in turn, leads to a whole bunch of other physical and mental health benefits.
The old saying: ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ is true of our tribe. Taking inspiration from E, we’ve become a bit of a barefoot family. And, the next time Mrs. Jones asks why my children aren’t wearing any shoes, I shall give her the evidence and suggest she tries it for herself!