Learning to walk

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The first steps normally occur between 10 and 18 months. In fact, only about half of all children can take a few steps by their first birthday.

Before walking, however, there are specific steps to take. Each step must be completed before moving on to the next.

Skills to develop before walking

Because the desire to explore encourages your child to take his first steps and helps him develop his muscles, avoid leaving him too often in his playpen, chair or exercise machine.

Because walking depends on gross motor skills, a child must have already developed the large muscles in the trunk that support and allow movement of the neck, shoulders, back, arms and legs in order to learn to walk.

In order for the baby to walk, the brain must also have reached a certain stage of development and be able to send the appropriate messages to the muscles.

Before walking, the child must therefore :

Control the movements of his head (around 4 or 5 months)
Sit without support for short periods of time (around 6-8 months)
Successfully get up and stand for a few seconds (around 9 to 11 months).
Standing without support requires balance and muscle strength, as the baby must support his or her entire upper body.

It is also best if the child has crawled and walked on all fours before standing. However, some babies skip these two essential steps in their gross motor development.

If this is the case with your child, let him practice walking upright as much as he wants. Once your child’s need to walk has calmed down, offer games that involve crawling and crawling on all fours (e.g., a crawl under a chair and crawling between two pieces of furniture).

It is important to keep in mind that skill development can vary from child to child. The ages listed here are averages. If you have any concerns, consult your child’s doctor.

Why do some babies walk later than others?

Several factors can affect when a baby will start walking. Generally, children learn one thing at a time. Some will focus more on language or fine motor skills than on walking. Others prefer to move only on their buttocks.

Temperament, weight and height may also affect the timing of first steps. Taller children have a higher center of gravity and longer limbs, which may make it harder to coordinate their movements. Lack of strength and instability in the leg joints can also contribute to delays in walking.

If your child is still not walking at 19 months, see the doctor.

What can delay walking

Slower maturation of some of the nerves and muscles needed for walking.
Quick and easy crawling, because the baby doesn’t feel the need to find a more efficient way to move.
A learning disability or developmental delay.
Certain physiological disorders, especially those that affect muscles and tendons.

Learning to walk step by step

There’s no point in forcing a baby to try walking. They will walk when they are mentally and physically ready.

Baby holds on to furniture to stand. His buttocks point back and his legs are bowed. Most children have bowed legs when they learn to walk. This is temporary and will return to normal within a year. The baby is able to sit up while standing. Starts to walk with trunk (upper body) leaning against a piece of furniture (around 9 months)

First steps: with or without shoes?

Walking barefoot allows the small foot muscles to work. This develops the child’s stability, balance, coordination and muscle strength. Walking barefoot also allows them to discover the feeling of the ground under their feet. It is therefore not necessary to have a baby wear shoes inside the house when learning to walk. Also, since ankle boots would not provide more support than low-top shoes, there is no need to buy booties. For more information on baby shoes, see What shoes to choose for baby?

He begins to walk sideways, always leaning on the furniture. He uses his hands to keep his balance and slides his feet on the floor one after the other. This forces him to make decisions, such as where to put his hand next to keep moving. He also has to assess his size in relation to the objects around him. If he can’t see anything to support himself, he will switch to crawling to keep moving (around 10 to 11 months).

He lifts his foot instead of sliding it along the floor. For a few seconds, he manages to balance on one leg. He also manages to hold himself using one hand. His free hand allows him to grab his next hold. Take this opportunity to reach out to him and enjoy walking alongside him (around 11 to 12 months).

Don’t hesitate to do activities with him to stimulate walking. Many children are able to take a few steps when held with one or two hands or when pushing a toy, with or without wheels. However, if the toy rolls too fast, the child may be afraid and prefer an object without wheels, such as a laundry basket turned upside down or a closed cardboard box. Caution! Walkers have been banned in Canada since 2004, as they have caused many accidents.
When your baby is ready to walk on his own, stand a few steps away from him to encourage him to walk towards you.

Your baby is able to stand without support. This frees up both hands, giving him many new opportunities. For example, he can pick up toys and objects from low tables or lower shelves. It’s time to reassess safety in your home. Some children are able to walk on their own, while others only need to hold one of their parent’s fingers to walk (around 12 months).

He walks on his own, but his gait is not yet very secure. To ensure stability and balance, he walks with his legs fairly wide apart and with his arms outstretched like airplane wings. Then, he gradually begins to swing his arms. Once he starts, he may have difficulty slowing down or stopping to avoid an obstacle. Can practice walking backwards (around 14 months)
Oops, fell!

Learning to walk also means landing on her bottom a lot. When your baby falls :

Don’t overreact. If he cries, stay calm and gently console him.

Encourage him to get up and try walking again.

Avoid “Be careful! You’re going to fall!” because too many warnings can slow down his learning or create unnecessary fear. Cover the corners of tables and sharp edges as your baby begins to walk. This will reduce the fear of injury when your baby falls. Protectors to cover the corners and edges of furniture are available at hardware and baby stores.

He walks with confidence. His legs are a little less apart and he uses his arms less to keep his balance. His gait is quickening: he walks faster and trots with quick, jerky steps that border on running (around 18 months).

By age 2, all children are now excellent little walkers. They walk by putting their heel down first and then their toes, just like adults.

If your child sometimes walks on his or her toes, there’s no need to worry. However, if your child continues to tiptoe for more than a year and frequently walks this way, talk to his or her doctor.

Walking and premature babies

In premature babies, developmental milestones are often reached a little late because it’s not their actual age that should be considered, but rather their corrected age. The corrected age is the age the child would have been if he or she had been born on the expected date of delivery.
The corrected age is used to assess the growth and development of a premature child because it takes into account the missing weeks of pregnancy. Corrected age is used until the child reaches 2 to 3 years of age. An exception is the immunization schedule, which will follow the chronological age, if the child’s health permits.

Things to remember

Before a baby can walk, he or she must have acquired certain skills and the brain must be developed enough to send the right signals to the muscles.

Babies usually take their first steps between 10 and 18 months.

Many factors affect the age at which babies take their first steps, such as temperament, preferences, height, weight and muscle strength.

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