Every milestone – from when your baby first holds up her sweet little head to when she speaks her first word — is thrilling. These moments aren’t just exciting and fun; they’re also markers that can clue you in to your baby’s development. Most parents already know to look for the much-lauded ones, like rolling over and walking. Is there anything you can do to encourage your baby to take his first step – or is it all genetically predetermined?
Baby’s first step is a developmental milestone that most parents never forget. But waiting for this moment can be an anxious time for parents who may have friends and relatives whose children walked at an earlier age. When it comes to walking, babies are on their own timetable and when they take their first step is no reflection of their intelligence, size, or the parenting skills of their mum or dad.
While we can’t speed up a baby’s first step, there are things that may hold a child back. Sometimes if a baby is a very proficient crawler or roller he may be happy with this form of mobility for some time. Parents should provide an encouraging environment with lots of praise for progress. But baby herself will delight in her accomplishments. Outside of a little encouragement, there’s nothing a parent can do to change their child’s walking timetable. Children will walk when they are ready. It’s good to take them by the hand and walk with them and help to support them. But they don’t really need lessons, it’s a natural accomplishment.
Walkers should not be used.
Walkers have been found to be the cause of many accidents, including serious head injuries, from children falling down steps in them. Each year, thousands of children end up in the hospital due to injuries from using walkers, such as toppling down the stairs or reaching a hot stove.
Bouncers and elliptical seats aren’t good ideas, either. While they hold kids in an upright position, they don’t help them learn to walk any faster. In fact, these devices may even delay walking if they’re used too often. A child’s body is not aligned correctly when he sits in one of them. Your baby’s much better off on the floor or in a playpen.
Here are some steps to help make that first step for your baby a little quicker; and easier too.
The single most important requirement for walking: strong back muscles, which babies develop by lifting their heads while lying on their tummies. So make sure yours gets plenty of tummy time while awake. Place interesting toys and objects just out of reach for motivation.
Hold off on baby’s first pair of shoes. The best way for baby to learn balance and proper form is to walk bare foot.
Before a baby can walk they need to learn to pull themselves up and cruise (walk while holding onto furniture). So provide baby a safe place with no sharp corners to practice pulling up. Remove low tables with sharp corners that are hard to cover well enough to prevent injury. Put away furniture that topples easily. Scour your home for trailing cords or other items your child might trip on. Put away throw rugs, retack loose carpet, and have siblings pick up their toys. Install safety gates at the top and the bottom of the stairs, and supervise your baby whenever he’s on the stairs. Lock up all potentially harmful household substances.
Once she can sit: Help her practice her balance and mobility by rolling a ball back and forth with her. Or hold a toy in front of her and move it from side to side, which will encourage her to lean this way and that. As she lunges forward or crawls, she’ll develop more strength in her neck, back, legs, and arms, as well as more control of her hips – enabling her to pull herself up to a standing position – and safely plop down again.
Once she can stand: Let her walk in front of you while you hold her hands; and periodically let go of one hand so she can experiment with balance. Or stand a few feet away from her and cheer her on when she’s standing on her own. Offer lots of encouragement and praise.
Once baby is cruising, encourage them to take steps away from the furniture and reward his/her effort with smiles and applause. Most parents are tempted to use walkers at this point. Push toys are fine, but avoid placing baby in a walker, as they are dangerous around steps and keep baby from learning to balance independently.
If baby is resisting leaving the safety of furniture, provide an incentive – maybe a favourite toy or snack. At this age, a parent’s enthusiastic encouragement is often enough to get baby moving.
Get the entire family involved in helping baby take his or her first step. Enlist grandparents, caretakers and siblings to help encourage and watch out for baby’s safety during this exciting time.
Don’t worry if your baby takes a few detours along the way. Some kids never crawl – they go straight from standing to walking – and that’s perfectly normal. What’s important at this stage is that your child is using arms and legs together to become mobile. If your child is doing any of the following, walking is not far away:
- Rolling around
- Crab walking
- Climbing stairs using his hands
Look at your child’s progress. Is he doing more this month than last month? Is he getting a little bit more of his body off the ground? If so, you’ve got nothing to worry about. If by the end of his first year he doesn’t make any effort to get around somehow, talk to your doctor.
As excited as you are about your baby taking his first steps, try to be patient. Every child has his own time frame for reaching this milestone. The best help you can offer: be encouraging, set up safety measures, and wait. Soon enough, the pitter-patter of little feet will be all over your house!