Step by step: How to encourage your baby to walk

Kinderling News & Features

A baby’s first steps are a momentous occasion in family life. Next thing you know they’ll be moving out! Or at least out of your arms and onto their own two feet. There are some things to keep in mind once your bub gets to walking age, and senior paediatric physiotherapist at Therapies for Kids, Debbie Evans, shares the common speed bumps kids encounter.

When should babies be walking?

Debbie says this is a big question, as babies can walk from a very early age, anywhere from eight months old, all the way up to two-and-a-half years old. We would start to say that it's outside the norms by 18 months. [Ideally] we would like babies to be walking by 13 months,” she says.

They should be confident in their ability to get up off the ground, to change distance as well as coping with walking on different surfaces. But this does vary for each child, and Debbie says it depends on three things; how much experience your bub has had on the floor, if they’re a risk taker, or if they still want to be sitting on someone’s lap.

Listen to Debbie on Kinderling Conversation:

“Don't get alarmed, doctors in particular don't get alarmed till about 18 months. But if a baby really doesn't have what I call ‘legs’ by about 12 months, which means that if you pop them down on their feet they take weight, then I would be starting to see someone,” Debbie advises. 

She explains that babies usually have ‘legs’ on your lap by six months of age, where they want to bounce around, start to jump and that’s the beginning of learning to walk. It’s fun and easy for both parents to participate in, even at the end of a busy day.

Should we give babies toys to assist their walking? 

Generally, the answer is no. “Essentially babies are learning to stand up, sitting down in any kind of upright device. Really children don't need devices,” Debbie says, except a high chair for feeding and a car seat. 

Jolly jumpers are one of those controversial aids that divides parents.“Ask any physio and they'll just go 'no way' but I have been known to use them,” Debbie says. Speaking from personal experience, her firstborn was a five month-old crawler and an eight month-old walker, and he was an active kid! In order to have her own shower, Debbie resorted to the jumper to get those three minutes in the bathroom. 

Baby walkers that have a table in front of them can restrict how a child learns to judge distance. While it’s good for making sure they don’t fall over, they ensure a child is contained and not truly mobile – they can’t just get out and climb up onto the couch or learn to turn around properly. 

One idea that’s an adjunct to independent walking are carts on wheels, which bubs can stand and push on with their feet flat on the ground. The problem with these is that kids have to learn how to fall over, and if they constantly have something to lean on, they won’t develop that skill.   

You can fall 17 times an hour while you are learning to walk but they very quickly learn to adjust how to get their weight back. Basically a child should have most of their weight on their legs not on their hands when they're first learning to walk,” Debbie explains. 

Kids are much closer to the floor than adults, they’ve got chubby, flexible limbs and a big fat nappy to break their fall, so just know that those little falls are all part of the necessary learning process.

What might stop a from child walking? 

The most common thing nowadays is a child that hasn't learnt to crawl,” Debbie says. “I call it the epidemic.” Often children are bottom hitching instead, or environmental factors such as constantly being in their pram, haven’t practiced tummy crawling and have been more protected all contribute to not walking early.

Fortunately, only one percent of children will have a serious issue that causes them not to walk, so it’s usually going to be okay. They’ve probably just gotten stuck somewhere in their walking journey.

Do shoes help or hinder walking? 

This is quite a contentious question in therapy,” Debbie relates. “I believe children can easily go into shoes before they learn to walk because a lot of babies nowadays are a little bit floppier.” 

When you put shoes on babies who are delayed in walking or rolling their feet, you are putting their foot in the correct alignment with their knee and hip. Sometimes heavy, solid, ankle-supporting shoes can help children to place their feet in a nice, flat position on the floor. Debbie recommends old-fashioned Clark’s sandals as a good place to start, or even a little sports shoe since they move around so much. 

“But like everything it's a mix. you want the sensory experience of your child walking in the mud, in the water, sand and the grass, but you also want them to have that stability,” Debbie says. 

By the time they’re one and a half, children should be on their feet 80 percent of the day, so spending half that time in shoes, and half in bare feet is a good compromise.