What does your child need to be able to do before they start to walk / how walking develops in infants/toddlers
Being active helps builds your toddler’s muscle strength for more complex movements like standing, walking and running. Walking is a major achievement in your baby’s life and it typically develops between 8-17 months with the average age of about 13 months. It’s a sure sign that your little one is entering the toddler zone (and some serious baby proofing is in your near future). Walking skills are built on the previous movement skills your baby has learnt. In order to walk, your child needs muscle strength, balance, and the ability to perceive their body in space. Your little one acquires these skills slowly over the first year. Waking is a complicated skill, but once a baby has learnt how to walk, babies learn skills like resilience (falling down and getting back up to try again), persistence, internal motivation to succeed, and testing their own limits. Although your baby is smart enough to get to this milestone on their own, a supportive coach certainly doesn’t hurt either (that’s you!).
Earlier developing skills
These are some earlier developing skills that a baby can do before they start walking:
- Crawling: Many (but not all) babies learn to crawl between 7 and 10 months. They may do the classic crawl, commando crawl on their bellies, or scoot on their butts.
- Pulling up to stand: Pulling up on furniture to stand is one of the first signs of walking readiness. It starts at about 9 months old. At 9 or 10 months, your baby will begin to figure out how to bend their knees and sit down after standing – which is harder than you might think! Pulling themselves up increases babies’ leg muscles and coordination — they are doing so many squats! Over time, these workouts build strength in your baby to stand independently, and then, move ahead with a few wobbly steps.
- Cruising around: This is where a baby is walking around holding on to different objects like furniture. They might use the coffee table to get across the room. This shows that your baby is learning how to shift weight and balance while taking steps. It also prepares for the ability to propel forward, which is required for walking. To help foster this, make a safe path for them with objects for them to grab on to. Be careful to secure objects to reduce chances of accidental fall/injury.
- Walking with assistance: You can hold your baby’s hand or give them a blanket to hold while you hold the other end and walk. Infant play grocery carts or musical walking toys with wheels and handles can bring fun and assistance to beginning walkers.
- Standing on their own: Babies standing on their own means that they have developed their balance and stability. They often test the waters for a few seconds, and then gradually stand for longer periods of time, boosting confidence to take it a step further. Make it a fun learning activity by slowly counting for as long as your child stands.
Things to watch out for
All babies walk at their own pace but sometimes there may be factors delaying their walking.
- If their feet roll in and they are unstable
- If they can’t balance in standing and stop safely
- If they haven’t learnt how to fall and recover
- If they walk on their toes
- If they are weak or have trouble with balance
- If they have difficulties with vision, hearing, or learning
Ways to help
You can help most by providing a supporting physical and social setting and opportunities to practice walking.
Here are some general tips for helping your baby at this stage:
- Give your baby lots of tummy time. This will allow them to develop their core and build awareness of their body
- Put them on their feet from birth
- Play games where you tip them from side to side and forwards and back so they experience weight shift
- Put your baby against a surface to play and move the toys to the side from 6-8 months
- Give your baby a trolley to push
- Walk your baby with 2 hands, then 1 hand
- Push furniture apart so they can cross a distance
- Encourage them to walk between parents/carers
- Place them facing out from the couch, etc. and encourage stepping away
- Practice safe falling and reassure – help them to get up and practice again
- Practice walking with your baby in short bursts throughout the day
When to ask for help
- If your baby is not pulling to stand and cruising around furniture by 12-15 months
- If not walking alone by 18 months
- Shows anxiety when encouraged to walk
if you’re ever concerned about your child’s physical development, speak to an occupational therapist for professional guidance and support.