Image: Dermot O'Halloran
Learning to walk is an incredible milestone for babies.
As a parent, it’s very exciting to watch your child learn how to move around the world in a whole new way.
When do babies start walking?
Babies typically begin walking when they are between 10 and 12 months old, but as with all developmental milestones, your baby may begin walking earlier or later; many healthy toddlers do not walk comfortably until they are 14 or 15 months old.
Pediatricians say there’s no need to worry unless your child reaches 18 months without starting to walk. As with all developmental milestones, earlier is not necessarily better, and later is not necessarily a cause for concern. But don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for advice if you feel your child is not meeting milestones as he or she should.
As always, you can’t force a child to walk before she’s ready. But you can watch for signs that your child is ready to try all on her own, such as pulling up to a standing position or running her hand across the furniture or wall while standing.
How can I help my baby walk?
Give her the opportunity to build core strength and develop her muscles and gross motor skills. Try not to use walkers or harnesses, which don't really teach your baby how to get around on her own. Instead, let your baby “cruise” by using furniture to guide her movement, and offer toys your child can push, like lawnmowers or baby doll strollers.
It’s important to know that young toddlers will move back and forth between walking, crawling, and wanting to be carried. They are still just learning how to get around, and walking is a big challenge for them. Just as adults get tired after working out at the gym, babies get tired after walking. And that’s okay!
You shouldn’t force your baby to walk if she can get around safely and comfortably by crawling or scooting. As with many things in life, the key is balance.
Babies move slowly compared with adults, and you might be tempted to continue pushing your child around in a stroller when out and about. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if you find a little extra time in your day, give your baby a chance and some space to practice his new walking skills somewhere other than at home or at daycare.
Most toddlers love to explore walking on lots of different surfaces, like the grass at the park or in the backyard.
Speaking of texture: let your child have fun learning how to walk. Try taping butcher paper, bubble wrap, or shiny wrapping paper on the floor for your baby to explore.
Let her walk through splash pools full of water or shaving cream, or explore creating footprints by walking through paint or across large stamp pads. Babies and young children learn with their whole bodies, and as they learn how to walk, you can take these explorations to a whole new level.
Barefoot or with shoes?
Let your baby go barefoot whenever it's safe to do so. This lets her feet truly feel the sensory input of the ground as she walks, and will help her to build strength and balance more quickly.
Of course, your baby will need to wear shoes sometimes, especially when you’re out and about. Choose closed-toed shoes with non-skid soles to help keep your baby’s feet protected. It’s important to make sure that a toddler’s shoes fit properly so that she can continue to feel strong and balanced while walking instead of feeling like her feet are pinched in shoes that are too small, or slipping and sliding uncomfortably in shoes that are too large.
You should ask the experts at the shoe store to help you measure your child’s shoes when you buy them. Remember, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on baby shoes; you’ll be replacing them often as your child continues to grow. During the toddler years, children might need new shoes every two or three months. It’s fine to use hand-me-downs from older siblings or buy low-cost shoes.
Create a safe environment
Once your baby is walking confidently, it’s important to have another look around the house to make sure that it’s safe. Lock cabinets, put a gate at the top of the stairs, cover electrical outlets, and make sure that there is nothing heavy or fragile within reach that your baby would be able to pull down on top of herself while she moves around the room.
When you don’t have to worry about safety, it’ll be a lot easier to enjoy spending time with your baby, laughing and giggling with her as she walks to you and celebrates her newfound mobility.