Our 3-year-old son has developed a habit to cross his second toe underneath the big toe. He does it all the time and claims that it feels more comfortable like that. We worry that, in the long run, this habit might deform his feet.

  • How can we convince a young kid to stop such a habit?
  • Is it even something to worry about? Maybe it just makes his toes more flexible without causing any harm?
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    It's unlikely he'd be able to bend it far enough to cause long-term deformation without hurting himself (so, not "more comfortable" for sure) -- does he do it while walking or just sitting around? – Acire Feb 13 '15 at 20:22
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    I do that too. But I can't while wearing shoes and I'm pretty sure I can't while walking. Hasn't done anything to me except linger as a habit for 30 some years. – Kai Qing Feb 13 '15 at 21:05
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    I'm 27, I have been doing it forever and my feet are fine no deformities – Allen Jul 4 '17 at 16:36
  • I’m 15 and I have been doing this since is was like 4 and I’m totally fine – Eliza Emmanuele Dec 26 '18 at 7:26

It is highly unlikely that this will do any damage at all, any more than, say, if one developed the habit of tucking their thumbs slightly into the folded fingers instead of over them when making a loose fist.

The purpose of the toes is to help us balance on our feet and to aid in pushing off while walking, which has to be done with the toes flat on the floor/ground. If he's walking normally (and you observe normal toe position when he's walking barefoot), I would make no more of it, as function is maintained, and attention to this behavior may be reinforcing it. Also, why worry about what is harmless?

If he actually does this while walking, however (please do tell us if he is; I'd be very curious to know, as I've never seen this), bring this to his doctor's attention. In this case, it would definitely throw off his gait and do some harm to his feet.

Again, I would ignore this myself if he's walking correctly, but if you feel you need to stop him from doing it, keeping him in well-fitting shoes most of the day would prevent this. It would also inhibit him from experiencing a relaxing 'habit' and would frustrate to a degree his sense of autonomy.

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  • I remember doing this too. I wonder if you can comment on why kids do so -- what causes the impression of comfort. Light pressure? General ticklishness of the sole? Maybe the kid or parent can see if a foot massage, for example, works the same or better. Then again, why fix what ain't broke... – Luke Sawczak Dec 26 '18 at 15:14
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    @LukeSawczak - It's a sensory thing. To them, it feels mildly interesting or good, the reward is immediate, and it becomes a habit. We all have/had them: twirling our hair, biting the inside of our lips/cheek, etc. Not all self-soothing is harmful or indicative of abnormal levels of anxiety. One of my kids began religiously biting their nails at 8 months, but didn't know to remove the product from his mouth, so would crawl over to me to take it. smh. Foot massage sounds wonderful and worth trying, but it's unlikely to stop the habit once it takes. – anongoodnurse Dec 26 '18 at 15:46

My 10 year old has been doing this since about the same age and it's now to the point that I'm asking him to try to be conscious about it and break the habit. His feet look very odd and even the doctor noticed it at his last checkup and said that while it's not harming anything now, over a long period of time it could cause problems that may even result in him having to have his feet broken and then aligned correctly.

I thought this was something that he would outgrow, but years later now it's something I wish I had addressed with my kiddo sooner.

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    Your doctor's comment is alarming. Is your child able to walk/run/stand/etc. normally and without pain? I would imagine a pediatrician or family physician would refer this to an orthopedist for a definitive opinion if the shape of the foot was affected rather than offer this observation. (If the doctor is mistaken - i.e., if the specialist does not concur - the doctor puts their ignorance on display, something that doesn't inspire confidence in patients.) If there is no pain or functional impairment, surgery is unnecessary and even dangerous. – anongoodnurse May 24 '16 at 20:18

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