It’s been so much fun watching your baby learn and grow this past year. You’ve already seen them go from babbling and starting to sit up on their own to crawling all over the house and getting into anything and everything. If your baby is getting close to 1, you’re probably waiting for the start of toddler walking and ready for all the exciting adventures that it will bring.
The good news is that these physical milestones generally progress naturally with little help from you. However, if you want to get your baby started early or worried about your child not reaching this milestone already, there are a variety of tips I will share about how to teach your baby to walk.
Related: 9 Large Motor Activities for Infants
PROGRESSION OF GROSS MOTOR SKILLS
A gross motor skill is an action that requires the use of larger muscle groups in your body, such as muscles of the arm, legs, and trunk. This differs from fine motor skills which use tiny muscles, like the ones in your hands or fingers.
Gross motor skills in babies and toddlers include rolling, sitting up, crawling, standing, walking, running, throwing, jumping, and more. They all use the muscles in their abdominals, thighs, and shoulders to produce these movements.
You’ll see your child go through each developmental stage as those muscles get bigger and stronger. Baby’s muscles develop and strengthen through each movement and activity in order to prepare them for the next one.
Therefore, the trunk and neck muscles that are strengthened through rolling and tummy time help your baby begin to sit up. The abdominal and hip muscles that strengthen from sitting, get your baby crawling. The leg muscles that your baby uses to stand upright, prepare them for walking.
So before you worry about teaching your child to walk, make sure that they have already started crawling and standing first. Read here about why crawling is SO important for a baby.
WHEN SHOULD YOUR BABY START WALKING?
The typical age for a child to start walking is from 10-16 months. It’s such a wide range because all children develop at their own pace. However, it’s still not abnormal if your child starts walking on the end ranges or outside of this range.
Some children will take off running before you’ve even had a chance to accept that they’re almost a toddler. Those are typically the fearless and outgoing children. Others may hold back on walking because they’re a little more cautious or shy. You’ll notice that a lot of emerging skills can be personality-based, rather than physical or cognitively-based.
This means that, if your child reaches a milestone later than expected, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem with their body or brain. They just may be the kind of kid who likes to take their time (which you may be grateful for in the long run) or can’t wait to get there fast.
Try not to worry about comparing your baby to others and just focus on the capabilities of your child. It should not matter that your niece started walking at 10 months and your baby is 13 months and still not standing independently.
My firstborn starting cruising (walking along furniture) around 9 months and took her first independent steps right before her first birthday. My son is now 13 months old and is barely taking a couple steps. However, I’m not worried because he is right where he should be developmentally. He’s hit each milestone in the right progression and is on the right foot to walking any day now.
A young child will get there when they’re ready.
It’s not always a sign of something wrong if they reach a milestone late. However, be sure to consult your pediatrician if they are not walking and they are older than 15 months.
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14 TIPS TO GET YOUR BABY OR TODDLER WALKING
For most children, walking will come naturally as they learn the strengths and limitations of their bodies. They’ll use trial and error to figure out what they can and can’t do. However, some may need a little bit more coaching to get there. Whether it be fear, confidence, or lack of practice, you can help your child get there sooner with these tips below.
Also check out 7 Activities to Do With Your Toddler To Make Walking FUN!
1. BE SURE THEY HAVE MET ALL PREVIOUS MILESTONES
Make sure that your child is at a developmentally appropriate age and level for them to walk. Don’t push them to do it too early or before they’re ready.
Your child should already be able to crawl, stand while holding on, stand independently, and cruise (walk while holding on) before you expect them to walk independently. Of course, crawling doesn’t have that much to do with walking, as some children do walk instead of crawling. However, crawling is a very important milestone that I recommend every child do before walking.
If they have hit all of those stages, then you can start teaching your baby to walk. If not, start working on standing and cruising before taking independent steps.
2. GO BAREFOOT
No socks. No shoes. Just bare feet. There are tiny muscles in the feet that need to start developing and strengthening and the only way to do this is by bearing weight on them.
As bipeds (animals that walk on two feet), we have so many little muscles that help us to balance and give traction as we stand. When you stand barefoot, the muscles in your feet have an easier time ‘grasping’ the ground. This will help those little muscles work harder to find the perfect way to mold to the ground in order to help your baby walk.
Not only does going barefoot help with walking, but it’s a great sensory experience for your child, too. All the nerve endings in the bottom of their feet will get to feel different surfaces and textures. These sensory signals get sent up to the brain and provide more awareness to the feet. This can even help with walking, as well.
Barefoot means no socks, as well. Socks will just cause them to slip and don’t provide enough traction for new walkers.
3. STURDY SHOES
Get rid of those baby crib shoes with soft soles. Those aren’t going to work anymore.
Your baby needs a shoe with good support at the ankle and the sole. Remember, your baby has not yet used the muscles of their ankle and lower legs too much yet so you may need to provide external support to get those muscles working.
Although barefoot is the best, when you’re out and about, your child will need shoes. Also, since every child is different, your baby may not do well with bare feet and may stand better with sturdy shoes.
They can keep their ankles from rolling or wobbling or just to make them feel sturdier.
Stride Rite is one of the best shoe brands for your little ones that provide great support for an early walker, both on the sole and ankle. *You can get them at a discounted price on Amazon.*
4. BABY STEPS
Start small and don’t expect that your child will jet across the living room when they first learn to walk. They will slowly begin to take 1 or 2 steps at a time. While you are teaching them, remain very close. If they can only take 2 steps right now, don’t sit 3 feet away from them. Gradually increase the distance as they get more confident.
5. ENCOURAGEMENT AND MOTIVATION
Be sure to celebrate every attempt and that will encourage your child to do more! We all need a little motivation in order to do things so celebrate every little victory, whether it is two steps or even just an attempt to take a step.
The biggest motivation for a child is a parent’s smiling face. Make sure you’re actively engaging with your child and should start to see their abilities strengthen.
Another motivator is when their interests are no longer on the ground. For example, if you keep all of their favorite toys on the floor, they won’t feel as motivated to stand up. However, if you put them on the edge of the couch or on a coffee table, their interest is piqued, and you may find that they start to stand up and cruise more regularly.
6. REDUCE THEIR FEAR
Keep objects and furniture close so they know that they always have something sturdy to hold on to. Again, make sure you’re always standing close enough to them with your arms open wide ready to catch them if they fall. Once they realize that they won’t get hurt if they fall, their fear should be reduced and they may be more confident to take a few more steps.
7. GRADUALLY REDUCE SUPPORT
You can hold your baby under their arms, on their trunk, or on their hands. As they learn and gain muscle strength, they will need less and less support. Make sure you are decreasing the amount of support and assistance that you give them as they learn to walk.
8. PROVIDE GOOD ROLE MODELS
What’s more encouraging to a child than seeing another child do it? Watching another child their age try out walking will often give your baby the push they need to get started. They may like to see them fall and get up again or see that the other child got a lot of praise for walking.
This is where a daycare or childcare facility is helpful, however if you have other siblings, cousins, or friends, make sure to have plenty of playdates for them to engage with others.
9. STRENGTHEN THEIR MUSCLES WITH STANDING & SQUATTING
As I mentioned before, your child needs to develop and strengthen their leg and trunk muscles in order to start walking. Make sure that you’re giving them exposure to do so.
The best way for your baby to develop the muscles of their legs is by standing. If your child can’t hold themselves up yet, you can support them under their arms. As long as they are bearing weight into their feet with their legs straight,they are working out those muscles.
Squatting is another way to strengthen your baby’s muscles. It’s an important skill that will support your baby’s ability to stand on their own. You can encourage your toddler to squat by putting toys at their feet and telling them to get the toy for you.
Squatting builds muscles throughout their hips and thighs!
10. PRACTICE AND CONSISTENCY
This is always my biggest tip for learning any new skill. Practice makes perfect!! Don’t think that by attempting to walk with your child once a day, they will begin walking on their own. Set aside several periods of time throughout the day to practice with them.
Whether it be in the morning when they first wake up, after lunch, or right before bath time, aim to work on your goal several times. Be consistent with these tips and activities. The more your child gets familiar with your expectations of them and what activity is coming up, the more confident and excited they will feel.
11. ALWAYS PLACE THEM DOWN ON THEIR FEET
After holding your child, place them down in a standing position instead of sitting. You may be used to putting them down in sitting and that may be easiest for them, but you want to take every opportunity to get them bearing weight into their feet. Even if they plop down as soon as you place them down, you’re still letting them know that your expectation is for them to stand up.
12. ALLOW THEM TO CRUISE ON FURNITURE
Your baby will first learn to walk while holding onto furniture. Make sure all the pieces are sturdy as they will be pushing most of their weight onto it. Give them access to long lines of furniture (couches and coffee tables) to provide them with opportunities to cruise along it.
13. START WITH A FIRM SURFACE
Although it can be scary to allow your wobbly, unbalanced infant to walk on hardwood floors or tile, this is the best place for them to learn.
Once they’re a little steadier on their feet, use those soft or uneven surfaces to challenge their balance a bit more. Once they get the hang of standing and walking a bit, using a variety of textured grounds like carpet, beds and couches (while supervised), and grass are great for the sensory experience, as well as improving their balance.
14. TWO ADULTS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
When having a child learn to take a few steps, it’s best to have two adults instead of just one. This merely provides the encouragement and motivation that your child may need to get started. This way one adult can encourage the child, as the other one gives him support at the other end.
15. SIT ON A STOOL
Many exercises will help with toddler walking, and one of those is sitting on a baby-sized stool – yes, really! Their back should have no support.
Make sure an adult is close by to help, and their feet should touch the floor with their knees and hips at a 90-degree angle.
Once your toddler is in this position, ask her to reach and pick up a toy on the floor then sit back on the stool. You can move the toy around to strengthen different muscles. Using this simple exercise strengthens your baby’s legs, back, and shoulder muscles.
16. KICK THE BALL
Another exercise your toddler will love is kicking! When your child is cruising, put a ball on the floor next to her and see if she kicks it. If she doesn’t, show her how to do it.
Make sure you practice kicking on both sides of her body. This is great for balancing and eye-foot coordination.
17. GIVE FREE TIME ON THE FLOOR
Babies and toddlers need time to practice their skills. Make sure you give your toddler free, unstructured playtime on the floor – supervised – so they have a chance to put those emerging gross motor skills to use.
Their play area on the floor should have safe objects to pull to stand on, and always make sure furniture, especially TVs and any furniture with drawers, is securely anchored to the wall.
Despite what you may think, using “walkers” or exercisers won’t help babies walk sooner. Rather, evidence shows they disrupt your baby’s progress. This is because they use different muscle groups when in a device rather than walking.
18. MAKE A BEAT & DANCE
If your child isn’t too interested in simply standing, encourage music and dancing. Babies love to match their movement to music, so put on some songs or tap out a beat and let your child dance.
Music makes bouncing and working their leg and core muscles fun, and we all know toddlers are all about fun time. Plus, it uses up some of their endless energy.
What is Considered Late Walking?
Most toddlers walk between the ages of 11 to 16 months. Late walking is between 18 and 20 months (or beyond).
However, it’s important to note when your child met their other milestones. If she started to sit independently later than average, it goes to reason that walking would be later as well. As long as there is a steady progression of milestones, most doctors aren’t too worried with late walking.
However, if your child met all of their other milestones at the traditional timing and a large gap exists between those and walking, your doctor may want further investigation, especially after the age of 20 months.
At What Age Would You Be Concerned about a Toddler Not Walking?
Don’t panic if your toddler is a delayed walker. If your child is not walking by 18 months, speak to your doctor and get an evaluation.
Many factors cause delayed walking, such as developmental hip dysplasia, rickets, muscle tone conditions, and simply a delay in development. It’s important to remember that, even if you don’t see your toddler walking by 18 months, chances are they will catch up with their peers with a bit of help.
If your toddler has any of these sigs, contact your doctor.
- Suddenly stops walking
- No independent steps, such as cruising, by 15 months
- Not walking independently by 18 months
- Unsteadily walking at 2 years old
- Unusual gait at 3 years old
Enjoy having fun with your toddler and watching them develop this new skill of walking. Don’t blink or you just may miss these little milestones as they pass! Also check out 7 Activities to Do With Your Toddler To Make Walking FUN!