One of the most exciting events as a parent is watching your child take those anticipated first wobbly steps. Feeling an anticipatory sense of excitement over your baby learning how to walk is normal, but it’s best to avoid putting the event on a schedule. While about half of all children learn to walk by their first birthday, a child taking his first tentative steps as early as 9 months or as late as 16 months is still within the normal range of development, according to Dr. William Sears.
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Early and Late Walkers
No two children are exactly the same, nor will they develop in exactly the same way. A baby’s first year is a time of developing the muscle strength and coordination needed to start moving around in the world. The speed of that development varies with temperament and opportunities to exercise. If your baby is more impulsive and motivated to get moving, she’s more likely to speed through physical milestones. A cautious child, even given ample opportunity to exercise, may take a much longer time to decide to walk. For this reason, it isn’t always useful to compare your baby to other babies; an early or a late walker is often an indication of personality more than it is about development.
Learning to Walk
A number of skills come together as a baby gets close to taking his first steps. You’ll notice your baby go through a sequence of milestones, starting with a newborn learning to lift his head. From there, your baby will sit up, and then begin lunging and reaching. Not all babies crawl, but all babies will start showing interest in moving around. Some will go straight from lunging to pulling up to standing and walking. Other babies may crab walk, shuffle or scoot. Regardless of how they do it, a desire to move around eventually leads to the pitter-patter of little feet. Once your child is moving and pulling himself up to a stable standing position, walking won’t be far off.
Encouraging a Walker
Walking depends heavily on your baby’s personality, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help. You may not be able to make your child ready to walk, but you can make sure she will have what she needs to start. To encourage the muscle development required for walking, make sure to give your baby frequent tummy time early in her life to work the muscles in her neck and back. As your baby learns to sit, use toys that move side-to-side to keep her rolling and reaching as this will help her train her balance and hips for walking. As she learns to stand, hold onto her hands and help her stand or walk with your assistance. Most of all, remember to be your baby’s cheerleader. Being excited and encouraging will build your child’s confidence — something just as important as balance to an early toddler.
Safety and Concerns
By the time your baby is 8 or 9 months old, make sure your house is arranged with safety in mind for a beginning walker. Put away unsteady or dangerous furniture, like sharp-edged coffee tables. Move fragile or hazardous objects off low surfaces and pick up loose cables or rugs that could trip up your child. Avoid the use of walkers; they have a delaying effect on your child's leg muscle development and increase the risk of injuries. Walkers increase your child's ability to reach dangerous surfaces like hot stoves, and the extra mobility may allow him access to dangerous areas, such as staircases. If your baby shows no interest in moving off the floor by his first birthday, or if he has not yet begun walking by 18 months, consult your doctor.