Photo by: iStock

Tricks for Getting Your Infant to Walk

by Pam Martin of "Mamapedia"
Photo by: iStock

Milestones in a child’s life are exciting for parents, and it can be hard to wait for them when a baby nears the “typical” age for one. It can be tempting to push a little one to try to speed up the process, but that’s not always a good idea. In fact, “most children, given enough time on their backs learning how their bodies work, learn to walk and walk well and safely by age two. A useful criterion to use is ‘if she could, she would. If he could, he would.’ Forcing an infant to ‘learn to walk’ earlier than they’re ready to on their own leads to a lot of problems: balance issues, right side/left side issues, front/back issues, mapping issues, vision issues. Movement creates mapping in the brain – newly mapped areas have to be explored and refined before ‘growth’ can express itself.  Children protect their head-heavy bodies from falls by not walking until they’re able to safely balance that heavy head over their pelvis without losing balance with every upper-body or lower-body movement,” according to Janet M. Patterson, RN, BSN.

Carly Snyder, M.D., concurs, saying, “The most important thing to remember is that children progress and develop at their own pace – few things parents do can speed up the natural course of walking. Enjoy your baby in the developmental stage they are currently in – becoming overly anxious and trying to push a baby to walk or to meet any milestone before their ready is unlikely to accomplish much beyond frustration and even more undue anxiety and worry. Your baby will likely walk before you know it – just give it time, and enjoy being on the floor with your crawling baby now – you’ll be running after your toddler in no time.” She goes on to add, “However, it’s always important to give babies the opportunity to explore, so while it’s tempting to hold them a lot, it’s also important to put babies down. Babies need to have time on the floor to play, stretch their legs, gain strength and eventually to start crawling and then cruising. Babies also love walking holding onto grown-ups’ hands for support as practice for the real thing.”

So, while you might not be able to change when your baby actually begins walking, there are things you can do to help prepare her for the challenge and to make the learning process safer.

First, if you haven’t already toddler-proofed the house, now is the time. Make sure that electrical outlets are covered. Temporarily remove any low tables with corners that can’t be covered with padding. Roll up throw rugs, electrical cords and other trip hazards. If your home has stairways, install safety gates at the top and the bottom, and lock up dangerous substances, including cleaning chemicals. As Snyder points out, even single steps that otherwise seem low to us can prove perilous to a pre/new walker." Finally, make sure that you remove any furniture that topples over easily; you want baby to be able to “cruise” on the furniture without that risk.

Provide the opportunity for your baby to develop the muscles he will need to walk, as well. Patterson suggests, " We really really need the time on our backs to develop good rotation mapping in our brains. Watch a cat turn in mid-air, or a dog when it leaps to catch a ball- can’t do that lying on your belly, with tight back muscles. The way to develop a strong back is to lie on it, and then use your pelvis and spine and ribs to turn. Try it yourself, and see. If parents really want to encourage their babies to have all the skills they need for walking, I encourage the parents to lie down on their backs on the floor and mirror what their baby is doing. How does the baby test what works for lifting knees, for planting one foot on the floor, for following one hand with its eyes? As adults, we’ve forgotten how we learned to do all these things, but it wasn’t through thinking about them. It was through being on the floor or in our cribs on our backs, and trying them."

Child psychologist Penelope Leach points out that walking isn’t all about the physical development, either; it also depends on the child’s confidence and motivation. Mary Barbera, PhD, RN, BCBA-D, encourages parents to " use the right reinforcement: I recommend that mom or dad sit on a carpeted floor just a few feet away from the infant who should already be standing and holding on to a small table. The parent should hold a preferred toy, bottle or cup at the baby’s eye level and have her let go of the table to walk a few steps and deliver the toy or drink (as well as lots of praise, hugs and kisses. The baby should be encouraged to get back up for a few more practice trials back to back."

Some playtime routines help prepare babies for walking, as well. Lunging from a sitting position to grab a toy Mom or Dad is moving side-to-side or rolling a ball back and forth helps baby develop balance; walking while holding onto a grown-up’s hands is great practice for balancing while standing.

Playing “do what I do” helps build muscle tone for walking. Chant, “do what Mommy does” while patting your head, pushing your upper body up while lying on your tummy, sitting and touching your toes, or playing “animal” by making sounds and crawling on all fours all help your child get ready to walk.

Once baby begins to cruise along the furniture, scatter toys along the cruise path and ask her to put them in a basket; as she masters this, move the basket gradually farther down the furniture and, eventually, a step or two away from the support.

Finally, don’t rush to force your child into shoes, especially hard-soled ones. Snyder suggests, " Try not to jump the gun on hard soled shoes – the best way for babies and toddler to get the hang of walking is to feel the ground under their feet, so if they can’t be barefoot then soft-soles or moccasins are best for as long as possible." And, when you do buy that first pair, don’t shop early in the morning, because baby’s feet may “grow” by as much as 5 percent by the end of the day. Check for fit while the child is standing: there should be a thumb’s width of space between the end of his toes and the end of the shoe, and you should be able to slip your pinkie finger in at the heel. And let him walk around in the shoes for at least 5 minutes before checking the fit again and looking for spots where the shoes may have irritated his foot.

Pam Martin has been writing professionally since the early 1980s, on a wide variety of topics. She brings 20 years of classroom teaching and tutoring experience to the party, including early elementary classes and courses in writing, reading and literature, history, geography and government at middle and high schools. She is also accomplished in crafting and in writing about projects, including her blogs, Roots and Wings From the Village, The Corner Classroom, and Sassy Scribbler, which encompass crafting, cooking, lesson plans, and professional writing advice.

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