Toddler Tips from a Pediatric Physical Therapist

I’ve seen parents in my online groups rave about Freshly Picked and soft-soled leather shoes and have also seen moms insist on super-structured Stride Rite or New Balance shoes. I feel so fortunate to have a variety of experts in my life, so I phoned a friend to settle once and for all:

Should little ones wear soft-soled or hard-soled shoes while learning to walk?

I spoke to my lovely-lady friend and rockstar pediatric physical therapist, Laura Fultz DPT, and found her tips so helpful, so I’m going to share them with you!!

New Shoes, Who Dis?

New Shoes, Who Dis?


Shoes: If they are cute, wear them! 

For our typically developing babes, you may wonder about shoes!? First thing to know is that finding the “perfect shoe” will not be a magic solution to get your babe to walk quicker. In fact, the more supportive the shoe, sometimes the less the child has an opportunity to develop their feet muscles. My general rule of thumb to get good practice in both supported walking and for strengthening those cute feet and toes is to wear shoes when you are out of the house and NO shoes when you are inside the house. I’d say this rule of thumb starts once they are pulling up to stand all the way to after they’ve been walking confidently for a few months. 

Once they are walking full time, good supportive shoes with arch support (the insole is not flat but has a bump) can promote the skills they are gaining, but still give them time to practice walking barefoot! 


This gross motor milestone occurs on average around 12 months. It can be as early as 9 months, and as late as 18 months to still be in the typical range for walking. If you are approaching 18 months and no sign of walking, it may be good to consult with your pediatrician. But in that 9 to 18 month range, here are some tips to get your baby moving! 

Increase standing stability without holding on!

One trick to get your babe upright is to stand them against a flat surface, a door or the fridge or a wall, and let their back rest there. They may experiment with standing on their own, but feel safe to rest back if they think they might fall. There is a lot of psychological factors at play here too! (The older your baby is, the more scared they may be based on their increasing awareness and remembered experiences falling!) 

Decrease human touch!

Our babies love to be cuddled, and boy do we love to cuddle them! This can be hard to overcome when they aren’t willing to try walking without holding your hand! A trick here would be to decrease the amount of touch by substituting a dish towel or a toy to bridge the gap between your hand and theirs so they become more confident on their own. My favorite trick for this is playing a little balance game with holding a scarf or towel below both their armpits and letting them lean into it and explore their balance without holding on to anything! You can let them take a few steps and they might even start to like it! 

Confidence in stepping

If your babe is cruising along table edges, or sofas, put an ottoman or a stable chair just a little out of their comfort zone and see if they will reach for it. If they seem too scared, decrease the distance until they have been successful a few times and then scoot it away slightly! They might catch on to your scheming but it’s fun to play. You can put a toy back and forth on the surfaces for them to try. Also going back and forth between parents or siblings gives a good confidence boost as well!

Let’s talk about tone.

Muscle tone presents in kiddos in some form along a range from high tone (more rigid) to low tone (more floppy, squishy) You may hear this called hypertonia (high) or hypotonia (low) during a pediatrician visit. Any tone in this range does not worry me if a child is meeting his or her gross motor milestones.

-Laura Fultz DPT, Pediatric Physical Therapist