5 Common Myths About How and When Kids Learn to Walk
Between a misunderstand of how milestones work and the baby marketing machine, parents are prone to fall for these walking myths.
Of all the milestones, teaching a baby to walk seems to consume a parent’s mind more than any other. That’s most likely because walking marks the end of babyhood and the beginning of a much more dynamic phase of a child’s life. But, because learning to walk is such an important part of a kid’s journey, it’s a locus of parental anxiety ripe and a magnet for bad information about getting a kid to toddle. What’s worse, some of these myths are tied to products that are downright dangerous.
So, between the misunderstanding of milestones and questionable marketing information, parents might have a difficult time letting go and letting a kid get on their feet naturally. Here are five myths about learning to walk that parents should just walk away from.
Babies Must Crawl Before They Walk
The idea that people crawl before they walk is powerful enough to have become a metaphor for learning the basics before coming an expert. Interestingly, it’s just not true. Crawling has very little to do with walking. It’s not a linear path. In fact, a baby who has never crawled can still learn to walk.
While children will certainly find a way to become ambulatory somewhere in the vicinity of 6 to 10 months old, they may not all do a classic four on the floor crawl. Some kids may scoot. Some kids might drag their lower half around like they been wounded on a beach at Normandy. And some kids may simply not crawl at all, opting instead to start pulling themselves to standing via low furniture and cruising.
Which is all to say a baby who doesn’t crawl shouldn’t stress a parent out. They’ll find a way to their feet eventually with a little encouragement.
Babies Should Walk by 12 Months
The baby books tell parents that the walking milestone is generally achieved by 12-months old. That can cause a great deal of panic for parents whose kid isn’t taking their first steps at the end of their first year. But there’s a problem with so-called “milestones”: the major achievements in a child’s cognitive and physical development do not occur at fixed points. Growing up is not precise. Walking can, in fact, occur anywhere between 9 to 16 months.
Every child has their own pace of development. So it’s far more useful for parents to pay attention to their kids own special developmental rhythm rather than comparing them to an “average” baby (who, most assuredly, does not exist).
Importantly, the development of mobility depends less on their physical prowess than it does on their disposition. An adventurous baby, for instance, will likely be motivated to explore. They’ll do whatever it takes to get to that delicious looking electrical cord and chew on it. Naturally, that will help them exercise the movement they need to get on their feet. A cautious baby, however, might be more apt to watch the world from the vicinity of a parents feet. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with them, it’s just that they really don’t feel like they’re ready to strike out.
Also, “milestones” not only shift from baby to baby, they’re also affected by socioeconomic status and cultural identity. So parents should not worry so much about when walking happens, but rather celebrate that it happens at all.
Walkers Help Babies Learn to Walk
Walkers are becoming less ubiquitous in American homes than they once were. At one time is was pretty much inevitable that a kid would be plunked into the center of one of these wheeled donuts so they could shuffle the contraption through the house. The idea was that it would give kids the skills they need to put one foot in from of the other and achieve walking faster.
However, after being en vogue for decades, pediatricians are very dubious that walkers will help a kid learn to walk. In fact, most researchers feel that walkers will actually keep a kid from learning to walk as they normally would. That’s because there is much more to walking than just moving the feet in a walking-type way. And walkers do not support the other skills needed, including the biggie: balance.
What’s more, walkers are downright dangerous. There is currently a movement to ban their sale altogether. The problem is that they make a baby way to fast, meaning the can get into trouble super quickly. That means a kid can breach the top of a stairway pretty darn fast with dire consequences. So, while there are walkers still on the market, parents should not buy into their purported benefits. In fact, parents shouldn’t buy them at all.
Push Along Toys are Better Than Cruising
The baby toy world is full of supposedly ingenious products that are meant to help a baby get toddling faster. The power of their marketing is pretty compelling: What parent doesn’t want to see their beaming baby giggling sweetly while propped behind some push-along device propelled by their own two feet towards walking glory?
The problem is that there is no evidence that toddlerhood will be achieved any faster via a push along toy than if a child were just cruising along the furniture on their own. But that’s assuming that a kid has a place to cruise.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with a push-along toy, as long as it makes kid and parents happy. There just shouldn’t be any expectation of skill advancement. As for parents who’d rather not have another thing cluttering up the house, the best way to help a new cruiser is to create a circuit of soft furniture with small gaps a child has to navigate. That way they’re working on their balance while moving from the edge of the couch to the ottoman.
Babies Need Shoes
Baby shoes are cute as hell, but they really serve no purpose in helping a kid learn to walk. In fact, a cute shoe with a stiff, bulky sole can hinder a baby’s ability to develop balance and could even lead to more falls and injuries.
Babies best learn to walk when they are barefoot. That’s because when the sole of a baby’s foot is stimulated by different textures, it helps them develop what’s called proprioception: essentially the sense of one’s own body in space. Proprioception is necessary for balance. Balance is necessary for walking.
The only time a baby learning to walk may need shoes is if they are outside, on a surface that could damage the bottom of their tender feet with thorns, rocks, heat or cold. And for parents who must have baby feet covered, it’s better to invest in some good grippy socks rather than shoes. However, if shoes are a must-have, aim for super-flexible kicks made out of thin, durable leather.