If your baby needs a little boost to start walking then take 5 minutes and read this!
Learning to walk independently is probably the most common milestone that parents get hung up on. It makes sense though. Learning to walk independently is a huge deal! Not only does it mean your baby has successfully integrated a TON of skills they’ve picked up along their developmental journey so far, but it also puts their brains into hyper-drive! Imagine how stimulated your baby must feel – the neurological processes taking place – as they start walking. It’s not just the coordination and strengthening taking place though. How about the fact that they are now experiencing directionality the same way we do as adults. Going straight, backwards, right, left, sideways. Your little one is now seeing, feeling and experiencing the world as intended – pretty cool stuff! But also the cause of significant worry by parents when it’s taking longer than anticipated. So let’s discuss some very simple, yet very effective strategies for giving your baby the little extra boost they need.
Optimize the Environment
Cruising – walking while using their arms to support themselves against a piece of furniture - is typically what comes before walking. Standing up on your own two feet and taking steps is a lot less intimidating when there’s something to hold onto / lean on. Odds are your baby is getting pretty comfortable with sliding side-to-side along the couch. But that doesn’t mean they’re ready for walking independently either. Find some middle ground, or as we call it, the “just right challenge”. To do this, set your baby up with 3 or 4 pieces of furniture that they can go between. Try using the couch, ottoman and a chair or two. Set up each piece so they are always an arm’s length away, so that your baby can reach for and touch two pieces of furniture with each hand. This requires them to become more comfortable with more dynamic movements than just sliding side to side. As they become more comfortable with this, try separating the furniture a few more inches, then a few more inches, and a few more until your baby needs to take the “leap of faith” where they can’t simultaneously be touching each piece of furniture.
*pro-tip – each piece of furniture needs an age appropriate toy for motivation.
Even though your baby isn’t walking yet, you can still expose them to challenges they don’t seem ready for. For example, just because your baby isn’t walking yet that doesn’t mean you can’t help them walk up a hill. Sure you’ll need to hold their hand, but unsteady, varying surfaces will give your baby’s muscles much different feedback than a hardwood floor. Think about it like this – what’s more challenging, running on a track, or running on the beach? Of course running on the beach because it challenges the stability of every muscle, ligament and tendon from the waist down. Your baby needs that challenge! Hold their hand to allow them to bravely navigate up the stairs, along the beach and across the lawn.
Falling is Part of the Process
No one likes to see their baby cry. No one likes to see any baby cry actually. But in order for a baby to learn and understand what’s required for upright mobility they need to experiment. With experimenting comes failure – falling. With falling comes tears. But here’s the beauty of it…with those tears, and the fear your brave little baby experienced when they fell, comes the recognition that something they did, as they were trying to walk by themselves…didn’t work. In doing so your baby is developing the ability to recognize a flaw in their plan to walk, or the actual execution required. To put it simply – they are learning from their mistakes, which is a major component of motor planning – a skill your child will continue to rely on well past their days as a baby.
Learning to walk independently is an exciting milestone, and it makes sense why parents often worry when their baby seems skeptic about giving up on crawling and cruising. Hopefully these tips will give your baby the little boost they often need and put you at ease, knowing you are doing everything you can to help.