The first steps are an important milestone in any baby’s life but there’s no set date for those steps to happen. Like any other developmental milestone in a baby’s first years, the age for first steps can vary widely. Opportunity, personality and even genetics may play a part in developing the skills required for walking.
On average babies usually start walking at around one year of age, but that’s only an average. Some babies won’t take those first steps for 16 months, whereas others make a first attempt at nine months. Premature babies may reach this and other milestones later than their full-term peers. Taking more than a year to start walking is not necessarily a cause for alarm. Whether babies begin walking early or late, research has shown that it has no bearing on a child’s later intellectual or physical development.
Not only is there variation in when babies will start to walk, the way babies approach walking also differs. One baby will spend months cruising along, holding on to furniture, before finally walking independently, while another will suddenly pull himself up and take a hesitant step, not realizing he doesn’t know how to sit down again.
To reach those first steps, babies need to strengthen and coordinate the muscles in their legs and feet. They must practice balance and finally develop confidence, something each baby does at his or her own pace.
It’s never a good idea to force a baby to walk before he’s ready, but parents can help their baby strengthen leg and back muscles by using fun games to encourage rolling over, sitting up and crawling. For example, playing chasing games or rolling a ball away from your baby can encourage crawling that in turn develops leg and back muscles.
You can also support your baby’s efforts to walk. A newly toddling baby may need you to hold his hands for a while as he practices. He may also need you to show him how to bend his knees, so he can sit down comfortably.
A popular proverb says “you must crawl before you can walk,” but it’s not actually true for all babies. Crawling does help develop some of the motor skills and strength children need to walk but some children merely scoot or shuffle around before pulling themselves up and trying steps. Every child develops the necessary motor skills in his or her own unique way.
Walking skills require practice. A baby must have the opportunity to practice and a safe environment in which to do so. Don’t worry if your baby falls down while honing those skills. When a baby first starts to walk, the many times her falls can be difficult for parents to watch. Learning to walk takes thousands of steps and usually many falls. In one study that observed 12- to 19-month-olds, newly walking babies averaged 17 falls an hour. It’s all part of the process.
Don’t be tempted to buy your baby a walker. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics using a walker may actually delay the time a baby starts walking independently by enabling him to move around before he is physically able to do so. Walkers can also be dangerous because a baby in a walker can bump into furniture, fall down stairs or suddenly be able to grab things you did not yet suspect were within reach. Walkers have been banned in Canada since 2007.
A stable push toy can offer a better way to help a toddler build confidence in his new locomotive skills.
Footwear is also not necessary for first steps. While soft, flexible baby shoes are good for keeping baby feet safe and warm, they can interfere with the development of walking skills. Walking barefoot is ideal because it develops the muscles and ligaments of little feet. If it’s cold babies can wear socks with slip-proof rubberized soles while mastering motor skills.
The next step after your child gains confidence walking is to attempt stairs but that will require assistance for many months, especially when toddlers are descending. After your child has mastered walking it’s also time to learn to dance and kick a ball. Jumping may not happen until she’s around two and most of the skills associated with walking will be second nature by the age of three. Again, those are averages. Motor development varies from child to child. If you have any concerns about your child’s motor development, be sure to discuss them with your doctor.