Preparation for walking
Most babies learn to walk between the ages of eight and 18 months, and they will learn to walk at their own pace.
Many skills are needed to master the art of walking, and these include balance, coordination, being able to stand and then the complex transference of body weight from one leg to the other. From a very early age, your baby has been developing and practising the small steps that build towards these intricate skills. All that rolling around, sitting up, shuffling around on their bottom, crawling (except for some babies who skip this stage), standing up and cruising from one furniture item to another has had its role in getting baby ready for their next big adventure – those first solo steps.
How you can help
Babies won’t walk until they are ready, so you can’t really ‘teach’ them to walk. They need to have mastered the right skills and built up the confidence they’ll need to face this brave new world of mobility. There are things you can do, however, to encourage activities to aid skill development.
This can start in the very early days. Walking needs strong back muscles, and back muscles are developed when babies are lying on their tummies and lifting their heads. Lots of tummy time is helpful, and you can put interesting toys just out of reach to help motivate.
Once your baby can sit, you can help them practise balance and mobility by rolling a ball back and forth or holding a toy on one side or the other to encourage them to lean different directions.
When your baby is standing upright with support, you can stand or kneel in front of them and hold out your hands for them to grab and help them take some steps using you as support. Toy cars and trucks that they can hold onto and push can be great fun, but just make sure they are stable with a wide base for support.
Just being with or near your child when they are playing and experimenting with mobility will help a lot too. This makes them feel safe and builds their confidence. Learning to walk barefoot helps babies improve balance and coordination, and there’s no need for shoes until they are walking around outside or on cold or rough surfaces.
Baby walkers – yes or no?
Many healthcare professionals caution against the use of baby walkers, which cause thousands of injuries every year in Australia. Baby walkers make it easy for young children to be highly mobile, and they can be injured when the walkers tip over, crash into something, topple down stairs or they come into contact with hazards such as fireplaces, hot drinks on tables, pools, etc. Many health experts also believe that baby walkers interfere with the development of walking skills, since the movement and balance requirements are quite different
While baby walkers can be legally sold in Australia, they are covered by a mandatory safety standard and all walkers must have warning labels attached.
Keep them safe
Once your child is walking, this exciting phase brings with it a whole new level of risk! You’ll need to review and update your childproofing efforts, so look around your home at your new little explorer’s eye level and see what you need to do to provide lots of opportunities for walking, while keeping them safe from harm.
If you’re at all concerned about your baby’s development, or if they aren’t walking on their own by 18 months or older, contact a healthcare professional for advice.