From recording that first smile and rollover to proudly sharing your baby’s skill at sitting up and crawling, you’re on the edge of your rocking chair waiting for your little one’s next move.
And one of the most game-changing milestones might be approaching soon — taking those first adorable, wobbly steps.
Walking is a greatly anticipated infant achievement. It’s a sure sign that your little one is entering the toddler zone (and some serious babyproofing is in your near future).
But you might also be wondering if walking early or “late” is related to intelligence and even physical performance in the future.
In fact, according to this Swiss study in 2013, children who started walking early didn’t perform better on intelligence and motor skills tests between the ages of 7 and 18 compared to babies who did not walk early. What this study did conclude, however, is this:
There’s a tremendous variance in when babies decide to start strutting — usually between 8 1/2 and 20 months.
- pulling up to stand
- walking while holding on to furniture
- may be taking a few independent steps
- standing holding on and may stand alone
We know you want to capture those first steps in your heart (and on video) forever, so let’s take a more in-depth look at these and other signs that toddling is imminent.
Pulling up on furniture to stand is one of the first signs of walking readiness.
This boosts babies’ leg muscles and coordination — just think of how many squats they’re doing! Over time, the mini workouts condition your baby to stand independently, and then, move ahead with a few wobbly steps.
You can encourage this by modeling their movements while saying “up!” as they pull up, and “down!” as they squat down again.
If, out of the corner of your eye, you catch your sweet Houdini suddenly standing on top of the couch and smiling while ready to nosedive, it might be a sign that their inner confidence is shining.
While this puts you on accident alert — and on catcher’s duty — it’s a great developmental signal that your baby is confident about trying new things (however dangerous they may be). To walk independently, babies must have self-efficacy in their ability to do it.
So if you’re catching yourself helicopter-momming-it, try to find your zen and let your little explorer push their physical abilities — in a safe environment.
“Cruising” describes a baby walking while holding onto objects. They might use the coffee table to move around or lean from one object to another to work the room.
This shows that your tiny sport 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 promote cruising, create a path of safe objects for your baby to grab onto and move about.
But take caution with furniture, plants, and other items that aren’t safely secured to walls or the ground. They could topple over, leading to an accidental fall or injury.
Who would have thought that the fussiness and extra-long nap could be a tip-off that your baby will soon blaze by you on their tiptoes?
Well, walking is such a big developmental milestone that it’s often accompanied by other developmental leaps. Your baby’s brain and body could be working double time, leaving a slightly less tolerant tot.
These moments of parenthood are tough, so take a deep breath and find solace knowing that (usually) things return to normal after a developmental milestone is achieved.
Offering safe, age-appropriate push-toys (not infant walkers — more on this below) can inspire your child to walk while picking up some speed.
Infant play grocery carts or musical walking toys with wheels and handles can bring joy and assistance to beginning walkers. You can also hold your baby’s hand or give them a blanket to hold while you hold the other end and walk.
The look on a baby’s face when they first stand alone is often one of accomplishment (and perhaps an ounce of fear, too).
At this moment, babies have the balance and stability to stand on their own. 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.
If your baby shows signs of readiness, consider these activities to boost their self-efficacy and strength.
To promote walking:
- Deliver praise. Watch for baby’s cues that they’re ready to advance — and praise every achievement. Help when needed, and sit back with a smile when you see that glimmer of self-determination in their eyes.
- Comfort a fall. Falls are inevitable in the infancy of walking, so be there to help your little one up again and console a few tears. Babyproofing is important at this stage to create the safest environment possible for your baby to explore.
- Create challenges. If your baby has mastered walking on flat surfaces, challenge them by walking up and down a ramp or on a safe, uneven surface. This helps build more balance, coordination, and muscle power.
- Extend a hand. Encourage your baby to walk to you as you extend your hands toward them. You can also ask them to follow you as you walk into another room.
You might want your baby to defy all statistics, but it’s vital to encourage walking in a positive, safe, and developmentally appropriate way. Here are some things to avoid.
Avoid the following:
- Don’t use infant walkers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against using infant walkers, citing that they’re a preventable and dangerous cause of infant injury in the United States. These injuries usually occur to the head and neck after a fall down stairs. Stationary infant activity centers (like a Jumperoo or Excersaucer) are safer bets.
- Avoid pushing your own milestone goals. Be mindful of pushing children to achieve goals before they’re ready to do so on their own. This can result in negative experiences or injuries that could delay walking even further.
If your baby isn’t meeting these physical milestones by their first birthday, should you be concerned? Not quite.
You may also worry that even a slight delay in walking could indicate additional developmental and neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism.
While the results of a small 2012 study concluded that early motor delays may be a risk factor for future communication delays in children at risk of autism, for children with a low risk of autism, parents should not jump to this assumption.
There are many reasons for late walking in babies. Some are physical (and not common), such as:
- developmental hip dysplasia
- soft or weak bones (medically termed rickets)
- conditions that affect the muscle (for example, muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy)
Other times, the delay could be mere personality.
While walking may seem like it’s as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, for a baby, it’s a monumental achievement that takes physical strength, confidence, and a safe place to practice.
And 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!).
Some of these signs might tell you that your baby is ready to walk, but each child’s “go time” is that of their own.
Lastly, if you’re ever concerned about your child’s physical development, speak to their pediatrician for professional guidance and support.