A pair of sparkly, peekaboo shoes with heels 2 inches high are favorites of 6-year-old Helena Bell ever since she got them for a wedding.
"She's worn them to the point where the jewels have fallen off," says Helena's mother, Dana Bell. "It's not my preference, but I've stopped fighting it."
The heels aren't allowed at school, but the first-grader from Woodland Hills, Calif., slips on her white treasures first thing when she gets home and wears them to church every Sunday.
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"I think if it's within reason, it's OK," her mom says.
As images of 3½-year-old Suri Cruise out and about in blingy heels recently hit magazines and the Internet, reactions to the grown-up look for not-so-old kids have ranged from cries of inappropriate to defense of a little girl's right to be girlie.
Suri's mom, Katie Holmes, told Access Hollywood she considers the kitten heels supportive because they were made specifically for kids learning ballroom dancing.
Samantha Fein says her 6-year-old daughter has attracted some double-edge remarks -- ‘‘My, look at your big girl shoes'' -- when she wears her knee-high boots with a 2-inch chunky heel or her brown wedges with only slightly less height. Fein notes that her child wears sneakers 90 percent of the time and heels on special occasions, like birthday parties.
"It's not like I'm sending her to the park in them," says the San Jose, Calif., mom. ‘‘I think there's a time and a place for everything."
The phenom falls in line with other trends in clothing, books, music and movies once reserved for older audiences trickling down the age ladder.
As Christina Vercelletto, senior editor of Parenting magazine, has been putting together the spring fashion edition, she's noticed shoes for girls as young as 5 and 6 sporting heels as high as an inch.
"I am seeing these heeled shoes, shoes that would be considered a little too grown up typically for a girl that age," she says. "I do feel that it's rushing it a little to put a girl 3 years old in shoes like that."
Unlike other trends, heels pose physical risks that include a tightening of the heel cord and changes in the growth plate.
Matthew Dairman, a Suffolk, Va., foot and ankle surgeon and a spokesman for the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, urges parents to limit wear to once or twice a week for four hours at a stretch -- if at all.
Another important factor, he says, is difficulty in keeping kids from running, which could make those in heels more susceptible to ankle sprains or broken bones.
"You put a kid in a heel and someone touches them and says tag, they're it -- they're off," Dairman says. "Moderation is key."