Some ten-month-olds stand up and walk solidly across the room. There are fifteen-month-olds who crawl happily from couch to chair to crib, wondering why everyone keeps trying to get them to stand up. Every baby has her own way of progressing from moving around on all fours to standing and walking on two feet. Like so much of parenting, it's best to let your child develop her own process and support her through it. We don't
Most parents feel reassured by schedules. If a child is walking and talking by her first birthday, then she's “okay.” But children develop at their own rate and on their own continuum. Walking and talking are skills that do generally begin around the first birthday and continue to develop throughout childhood. While there is no exact timeline for development, you should notice signs of continuous change and growth.
At the age of one, babies are moving around by any of these means:
• Crawling (moving on hands and knees)
• Creeping (walking with legs straight, hands still on floor)
• Stepping (taking individual steps while holding your hands)
• Cruising (walking while holding onto furniture)
Most likely your one-year-old is using a combination of these methods to get around. Some babies take a longer time finding their balance. They can pull themselves up and maintain a standing position while holding onto furniture or your fingers, but they haven't figured out how to stand on their own from a sitting position.
The word “toddler” comes from the verb “to toddle,” which describes an unbalanced way of walking. Toddling refers both to the bolting, lunging steps a baby takes as she starts to sense her balance as well as to the side-to-side movements that one-to three-year-olds make because of their very low center of gravity. If your baby is a cruiser, at some point you'll notice that in moving from the sofa to the coffee table, for instance, she is letting go of one piece of furniture for a second before grabbing the next. This is an important step in learning to negotiate balance.
Stepping and Falling
When babies practice their walking, they often take high, marching steps, lifting their knees and then placing their feet down. Falls are common. Rather than pitching over face forward, babies usually fall right down on their bums, and bumps and bruises are par for the course. Whatever style your baby's walking takes, applaud his attempts and take his falls in stride. Comfort him without overreacting; otherwise, he may begin to believe that falling is scary or dangerous.
Once she's mobile, your baby will enjoy walking everywhere and may even demand to do so. At this stage, however, she is still too uncoordinated to walk very quickly and too young to orient herself to share your goals — think of all the parents you've seen trying to coax their new walkers into keeping up and taking the “right” direction. Walking along with your toddler is sometimes difficult when you're trying to get something done, like the grocery shopping, in a place that's not necessarily conducive to toddler trial and error, like a crowded grocery store, especially when you're in a rush.
Keep in mind that walking is a huge milestone that takes time and a lot of practice to master. If there are times and places where it is not a good idea for your toddler to walk — like rush hour in the grocery store — try to keep her exposure to these situations as brief as possible. Make a quick trip through the store with her riding safely in the cart, then spend walking time together as soon as possible after getting home. Better yet, make a stop at the park before you hit the store, and let her burn off some walking energy there.
Push toys, such as wagons and carts, help babies balance and move forward. Be sure the wheels are sturdy and that all stairways are blocked so that your child doesn't push the toy — and herself — down a flight of steps. Be sure, too, that there are no wires or cords in your child's way and that all doors are closed securely.
This period of “slow” movement lasts a relatively short time. Most toddlers start running sometime after eighteen months, so stop and smell the roses with your child. Soon you'll be chasing her around and wishing she would slow down.
One Step Up, Two Steps Back
With new freedoms come new fears, and sometimes learning can be scary. Your new walker may suddenly notice that now there is distance separating him from you. As he sees that floor space open up between you and becomes aware of the separation, he may regress in behavior, such as crying more or being clingier than he was before. Understand that all development comes in fits and starts with some bumps along the way. In fact, you, too, may feel a certain sadness knowing that your baby will soon no longer need you to carry him around as much as he used to.