A lot of work goes into a child’s first steps; although most start walking without support by 15 months, from their birth babies are building their strength and coordination bit by bit with every developmental milestone. These milestones generally track along the development of an infant’s gross motor skills. The typical, but not ubiquitous ranges, include pushing up by 2 to 3 months, rolling (front to back or back to front) by 4 to 6 months, sitting with support by 4 months, pulling up by 9 months, followed by cruising and walking by 12 to 15 months. They may occur in a general order, but not necessarily. Some may develop concurrently. Some may happen out of order, or not at all.
“The important point to keep in mind with developmental milestones is that there are ranges for each and every one. So just because your child doesn’t reach a certain one at the age we typically expect them, it isn’t immediately a cause for concern,” explains Tiffany Fischmann, MD, a pediatrician, and neonatologist. “We always look at the whole child and if they are meeting all of their other milestones; but if they haven’t reached one particular one yet, we tend to observe and give it a little time.”
How to Help a Baby Learn to Walk
- One step at a time – before babies can walk, they need to develop the gross motor skills that will allow them to do so – things like strength, balance, and bodily awareness.
- Milestones are guidelines – a lot of kids; gross motor skills development correspond to developmental milestones, but a lot do not. Kids develop on their own timeline.
- Barefoot is best – being able to feel and grip the ground with their toes is a crucial part of development; shoes can interfere with that. Where shoes are necessary, thin-soled leather booties are a good compromise.
- Baby walkers are dangerous – they are known to cause injury and accidents. Supervised general exploration is a much more effective – and safer – option.
Parents may want to help their child develop these gross motor skills – they certainly take pride in them, even as they spell the end of a certain kind of easy, snuggle-based parenting – but according to Fischmann, there isn’t a lot parents can do, other than supervise (and baby proof) for the sake of safety.
“There isn’t much you have to do as a parent to get your child to walk, but I think the best way to see them progress is to allow them to explore their environment,” says Fischmann. “Make sure your home is properly childproofed and relatively clean and let your baby play on the floor and explore moving. Let them try to do things, let them fall and let them explore outdoors as well. Obviously, always with close supervision.”
Parents can create situations where babies are more likely to discover their own abilities, but the work is up to the kid. Certain products that purport to help children walk, such as baby walkers, are not only completely useless, they are downright dangerous.
“Bottom line: [baby walkers] do not aid in the development of walking,” cautions Fischmann. “They put babies at risk for serious injuries most from head injuries or falls down stairs. They allow babies who normally wouldn’t be able to get around to get into things they shouldn’t be getting into. Stationary play centers in moderation are a far better and safer alternative.”
Parents who want to help their babies become better walkers do have some options, though: Put away the cute baby shoes.
“Toddlers really need to feel the ground under their feet as they learn to walk and they do this best without shoes. They should also get used to different textures under their feet to help them develop their proprioception,” explains Fischmann. “Of course, there are times when toddlers will need to wear shoes, so you should choose something with a flexible sole and space for their feet to grow.”
Milestones happen in ranges, and every child develops individually, even children from the same family. While it’s hard for new parents to avoid drawing comparisons between their baby and their friends’ babies, many conclusions they draw from those comparisons will be premature. Sometimes missing milestones should be concerning, particularly after multiple delays, regressions of milestones, or failure to progress after a period of observation. Parents should voice their concerns to their pediatrician.