Those first steps that a child takes can be so very exciting. It takes so much practice and likely some blood, sweat, and tears to make it to that finish line—it feels like a huge accomplishment for baby and parents alike.
Each child gains the skill of walking at his or her own pace, and while most resources say that one year of age is when a child should begin to walk, it’s completely normal for this skill to be acquired earlier or later. As long as your child is progressing toward walking with skills such as standing up, cruising, and playing between surfaces, then they are still practicing the necessary skills in order to walk independently.
Each child needs many, many hours of practice in order to gain a new skill, and it’s important to keep that in mind as we watch our children work toward walking. Here are five tips to get your kids ready to walk.
Make tummy time a priority
If you happen to know a pediatric physical therapist, then you are likely exhausted with how often we recommend tummy time. But tummy time really is so important.
Each child gains the skill of walking at his or her own pace, and while most resources say that one year of age is when a child should begin to walk, it’s completely normal for this skill to be acquired earlier or later.
The muscles that your baby strengthens in tummy time are the muscles that your baby will use to stand up independently. Your baby also learns basic balance and protective reactions in tummy time. Those balance and protective reactions are then translated into sitting and standing and are necessary for your child’s safety when beginning to walk.
If you’re having trouble with tummy time, read this for some tips and tricks.
Limit time in equipment
As touched on above, children need thousands of hours of practice in order to acquire the skills needed to walk. When a child spends time in equipment (such as jumpers, bouncers, swings, positioning seats), that is time that is not being spent in strengthening the necessary muscle groups needed for walking.
Additionally, when used incorrectly, sometimes those pieces of equipment place children in poor postures and can lead to inefficient use of muscle groups. Try to swap out some time in equipment for time on the floor instead.
Toss the walker and push toy
This may seem like the most counterintuitive recommendation, but walkers and push toys actually don’t help your child walk any sooner. By using a walker or push toy, your child learns to rely on external support to walk, instead of learning how to appropriately coordinate muscle groups to achieve independent walking. Additionally, walkers and push toys promote poor alignment and posture, thus potentially contributing to an eventual poor walking pattern.
When safe, allow your child to spend time without shoes. This allows your child to learn how to appropriately use his or her foot muscles to maintain the balance needed for walking. If you watch closely, you’ll see how those little foot muscles are firing at all times while your child is standing, and those muscles develop best by being allowed time out of shoes.
When safe, allow your child to spend time without shoes. This allows your child to learn how to appropriately use his or her foot muscles to maintain the balance needed for walking.
Be mindful of your home
While baby-proofing your home is going to be very important at this stage, your home setup can also promote walking. Try placing couch level surfaces (like chairs, coffee tables, ottomans, etc.) a little closer to one another. This will encourage your child to begin to transition, or “cruise,” between surfaces.
Then as he or she masters the ability to play between the surfaces, try to move them just a little more out of reach, as this will encourage your child to take the leap and let go from one surface to reach another. You can also place toys up high or on the floor so that your child will work on rising up onto their toes to reach and squatting down to play. Both of these exercises will help to build their muscles.
Reach out if you are worried
If you feel like your child could use a little more individualized attention to help acquire walking, he or she may benefit from physical therapy. A physical therapy session can help identify specific muscle groups or skills that need to be refined in order to walk independently. You can ask your pediatrician for a referral for physical therapy and look for a pediatric-specific clinic to schedule an initial evaluation.
Remember, it’s new for them
A few other things to note about the walking skill:
- Walking development is very closely correlated with talking development, so you may see a burst with language development as your child begins to walk more.
- It is very normal for a new walker to fall more than a dozen times per hour. As is with any new skill, your child will refine the skill and decrease the number of falls over time.
- A new walker’s walking pattern is not like an adult walking pattern. There are numerous ways that your child’s pattern is different than an adult, and in fact, your child will continue to develop more toward that adult walking pattern well into their school-aged years. If you notice some of these differences, it’s very normal and expected.
- Your new walker will keep their hands up high and legs very wide in the beginning. It doesn’t look pretty, but it is definitely normal.
Enjoy your new walker–they’ll be running before you know it!