How to help your baby from almost there to walking there!
We have recently talked about ‘cruising’ and its value as an often overlooked infant motor skill.
Infants often spend quite a bit of time in the ‘pre-walking’ stage. On average babies tend be able to stand while holding on to a stable surface from about 7-8 months of age. The average age of walking is around 12-15 months of age (though really ‘normal’ is anywhere between 10 and 18 months of age).
It is highly variable!
The ability to combine the skills, strength, motivations and habits required to achieve the act of walking (multiple steps forward without support) is hugely variable between babies.
There is not a recipe or exact sequence of things parents can do for every baby that helps them walk.
There are however some basic principles that you can understand and apply to help your baby celebrate those first steps.
If you are going to help anyway, you may as well learn to help well!
A babies environment and experiences impact the way they develop. As long as a child’s environment is varied, rich in experiences and opportunities, most babies will learn the ‘big’ skills like walking without someone specifically thinking about how to help them. On the other hand, as parents we attempt to help our babies all the time. Sometimes we can think we are helping them, when we are inadvertently getting in their way. So the following points are about giving you a better understanding of how you might be able to better help your baby learn new things.
So for the baby that is already ‘cruising’ (click here for another recent article on this topic) here are 2 things that might help them progress to independent walking!
Balance is probably the trickiest part of learning to walk.
Try to help your baby achieve brief periods of standing alone.
A good way to start this is to sit on the ground with your baby standing in front of you (facing you). Hold them around the waist rather than by their hands. Now practice this regularly over a period of a few days as you gradually learn how much you can reduce your support. The aim is to be able to gradually take your hands off your baby.
2. Movable Furniture
For the baby who is used to walking along couches and coffee tables, transitioning to less stable (but still predictable) furniture is a great thing to try.
The early end of this is furniture that only moves a little bit and with a lot of effort… think a kitchen chair, a high chair, esky or full storage tub.
Then progress to things that move fairly easily… a kids chair, an empty storage tub, a toy box, a lightweight step stool or similar.
Finally wheeled toys and push trolleys / toy cars etc offer a fast paced way of challenging balance and stepping abilities.
Holding a child’s hands as they ‘walk’ with your help is a classic. There is nothing wrong with this but be wary of doing too much of it. In this position you are providing quite variable (sometimes unpredictable) but very dependable support for your infant. It can be very easy for your baby to become dependent on this help and unwilling to try walking without it.
Using ‘walkers’ (sit inside) or ‘jumpers’ is a common practice. While there are some important safety considerations to be aware of (see recent facebook post) these devices are not immediately bad for your child. They are a little bit like ‘developmental’ sugar though… they are entertaining, but offer limited high quality value in movement or play. As a general rule… seats don’t teach kids to sit and walkers don’t teach kids to walk…
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B.Phty (Hons), G.D. Paed. Neuro. Rehab.
Tim has 10 years of Physiotherapy experience and is experienced in Paediatric (Baby’s and Children’s) Physiotherapy.
Tim is co-owner and director of The Movement Team. Tim also holds an Advanced Physiotherapist position within a Child Development Service in the public health sector.
Tim has worked across the breadth of paediatric health (acute hospital, disability care, developmental, community and private clinics) and has completed numerous national and internationally recognised education courses in topics including developmental orthopaedics, high risk infant management, respiratory functioning and infant movement.
Tim's formal training consists of:
Bachelor Physiotherapy (Hons) - University of Queensland
Graduate Diploma Paediatric Neurological Rehabilitation - University of Western Australia
Tim additionally holds the following positions and memberships:
Chairperson of the Queensland Paediatric Physiotherapy Clinical Network 2013 - 2016
Child Development Service Team Leader - 2016/2017.
Australian Physiotherapy Association Member
Please note that the clinical information included in this article is of a general nature and might not apply to every family. Please see your local health professional for individualised developmental advice.