“Is he walking yet?” are the inquisitive words you’ll hear time and again as your little one closes in on about 9 months of age — but don’t let it bother you if he’s not. All little ones go through similar stages when they’re learning to walk, says Ronna Schneider, M.D., with Suburban Pediatrics, and they should not be rushed. “There’s a wide degree of ‘normal’,” she says, adding that some babies may start walking at just 9 months, while others might take longer. Before you get to that eyes-wide-jaw-dropping amazing moment Baby steps out on his own, here’s what you can do to support his efforts.
Step 1: Sitting Up
Somewhere between 4 and 7 months old, your little one will start sitting on his own, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in the book, The Wonder Years: Helping Your Baby and Young Child Successfully Negotiate the Major Developmental Milestones (Bantam; 2009). The ability to sit up means his muscles have strengthened enough to do so. And he’ll need even more strengthening before he can walk. Engage him in gentle playtime when he’s sitting on his own. Place a stacking toy or other item before him that encourages him to reach then re-balance.
Step 2: He’s Mobile!
Crawling’s not far behind sitting up for many babies, and between the ages of 7 and 9 months he may just get underway. When he does crawl, encourage him by providing small toys to crawl toward, but don’t push walking just yet. Schneider advises against walkers, as does the AAP, because they can discourage children from learning to walk on their own and can be dangerous because they give parents a false sense of security.
Step 3: Up He Goes
One day, at around 8 months old or so, you might just walk into the nursery to find Baby standing, holding onto the crib. Surprise! Guess who’s ready for some easy-does-it balancing games with Mom and Dad? When the time’s right, help Baby pull himself up. Without letting go, help him get back down to the floor by bending his knees. This “collapsing” activity will help him know how to safely land from the standing position once he’s up on his own.
Step 4: Practice
After pulling himself up and gaining better balance with your help, hold his hands and help him take a few steps. This increased balance takes place at about 8 – 9 months — he’s getting closer to walking! Help him practice taking steps with your constant support and encourage him happily as he tries.
Step 5: Cruising
It’s now time to take the breakables off the coffee table and other surfaces, and secure furniture. Between 8 and 9 months, Baby’s ready for moving on his own and he uses the furniture to do so. You can encourage his exploration, says Schneider, and help him develop security and self-confidence with push toys or by holding his hands as he moves. But before doing so, get down on your hands and knees and check out your home from Baby’s eye level. That way you can notice sharp edges that might hinder his path and place furniture strategically. A word of caution: While Baby is cruising on his own, don’t push him too hard to move away from furniture just yet. He’ll do that in his own time, and doesn’t need to be stressed about it, says Charles E. Schaefer, M.D., and Theresa DiGironimo in their book, Ages and Stages: A Parent’s Guide to Normal Childhood Development (Wiley; 2000).
Step 6: Standing
Baby will do this about 9 – 12 months and you’ll both hold your breath before he goes boom on his bottom. Make this part playful by sitting with him on the floor and helping him stand, saying “Up!” When he stands for a few seconds on his own, be sure to praise him. He’s slowly gaining control!
Step 7: Baby’s Walking!
Nothing’s quite as impressive as seeing Baby’s face when he takes his first steps: mouth open, eyes wide, concentration in full capacity … step, step, step, BOOM! This will happen anywhere between 12 and 15 months, but all babies are different. Before long, he’ll be engaging in that cute little act of hands on the floor and up we go over and over again. Praise him in his early efforts until he’s steady, but also know that he may prefer to crawl more than he walks for some time to come, and that’s OK, says Schneider. “It’s not really a step back,” she says. If you’re concerned that your little guy or gal isn’t walking yet when all his peers are, however, always bring it up with your pediatrician. Schneider says that in her practice, she refers parents to a specialist if Baby isn’t walking on his own by 17 or 18 months. “If your baby is not meeting milestones, talk to your doctor,” she advises. “He may need physical therapy to develop muscle tone.”
No matter what, always make sure Baby’s parameters are safe and that you’re not too busy to be with him when he’s roaming about.
Know When Trouble is Afoot
“The most important thing for parents to realize,” says Kevin Bryant, M.D., of Progressive Podiatry, LLC, “is that they need to understand what is normal in order to be able to recognize what is abnormal.” Whether Baby starts walking at 9 or 14 months, parents will want to keep an eye on his gait as well as his feet.
“Toe walking is very, very common in kids,” says Bryant, adding that kids who walk up on their toes typically stop around age 4 or 5. Some kids will walk on their tip-toes because of a neurological or physiological condition — for example, the muscles on their backs of their legs may actually contract the tendons in their ankles, forcing them to walk on their toes. Bryant says that most kids just think that’s the way to walk, and a little retraining with physical therapy resolves the issue.
Flat feet is another common problem, according to Bryant, and usually requires a visit to a specialist if your little one is in pain, or can’t seem to keep up with other kids while walking or running around. An orthotic insert, which today can be customized from advanced, lightweight materials, can help.
Parents should also check their child’s feet often, says Bryant. Keep an eye out for ingrown toenails — older kids can typically withstand a little minor digging in the doctor’s office, but Bryant says that younger children, especially those younger than 4 years of age, may actually need surgery. Warts, which are caused by a transmissible virus, are also very common, especially during the summer months as kids spend more time barefoot and in public places, like a community pool. Bottom line? “Inspect feet regularly and watch their walk,” says Bryant — if he’s in pain, or can’t keep up with you on a walk, see a doctor.