Stages of Walking for Babies and Toddlers
One of the greatest joys of being a parent is watching your child learn to walk. It is both super rewarding and funny! I remember when my son waddled his first steps. It was amazing, right up to the point when he fell over! Our second child (our daughter) actually took much less time, probably because she was watching her older brother like a hawk, imitating everything that he did.
In terms of moments of family excitement, only arriving at the gates of the Zoo together has ever come close to being filled with so many massive grins.
The truth is that though that each absurdly wobbly first step for the first couple of months was a source of both joy and fear. A wandering baby learning to walk is about as predictable as a rugby ball bouncing down the field – you never know which way they’ll turn at any given moment, and they can be so hard to catch!
You also never know when they’ll faceplant or fall backwards and smash they cute little skulls on the concrete breaking your heart because toddlers are so hilariously bad at walking for so long. It’s just amazing. Did you know that foals (baby horses) can walk within minutes of being born and run not long after?
Then, as they get older, and slightly more coordinated they fall less and you get to start toddling middling distances with them. Then there is this magical phase where they can walk, and want to, but only if you’re holding their hand. It’s a beautiful bonding moment when a tiny, taut hand disappears into your enormous one, and holds on like life depends on it as they first learn to walk, carefully taking their first ever steps. And then before you know it, they let go and run off, swaying side to side like a drunken elephant coming out the other side, it’s a big moment – they’re letting go of you and they’ll never need you quite as much again (cue the tears). Yes, it’s that moment when your little bundle of joy transitions from being a baby learning to crawl, to a toddler, then a walker and then a runner!
Now that we’ve blasted you through the process, let us take you through it in a bit more detail, through what we call the different phases of baby walking development. There are quite a few. Ironically, you shouldn’t get too concerned with making sure that you little boy or girl meets each of these stages of learning to walk, and definitely not by a schedule as all children, develop their walking skills differently. However, they always get there eventually. It’s not something that you can or want to rush. The longer it takes, the longer you get to enjoy it. Be warned, you may never laugh this much ever again as they fall over and over (on soft ground ideally!)
Pre-Walking Baby Steps (3-6 months old)
When a baby is just a few weeks old you can hold them up and they will naturally try and push their legs down against any hard surface. Many parents (myself included) will start believing that we have super genius children who will run at 3 months and play the piano at 9…. The truth is that using their legs in this way is a simple, natural reflex, but remember, they aren’t ready to talk or stand up just yet. Let go and they will fall flat on their cute little faces. From about the five-month-old stage of toddler development, you’ll be able to balance your baby standing up on your thighs and they’ll bounce up and down, like a rubber ball. You really will need to keep hold of their hands or hips at this stage – their legs can take their weight, but a five-month old is about as good at balancing as a needle. Just like doing burpees and squats, this bouncing helps the little leg muscles to grow though, and will become a favourite playtime activity you can do together, while babe gets on with fun things they can do themselves like rolling over, sitting up (again, not as easy as you’d think) and then crawling (or in the case of my son moving around like a caterpillar on his tummy). Caterpillaring and crawling are a bucket of laughs to watch as well. Some children, particularly in the early stages when they get stuck in reverse and propel themselves around the house in reverse, just like Mater from Cars! It doesn’t take them long to work out though that forwards is better J. Do be prepared for some falls and tumbles aplenty at this stage – if you’ve got tiled or hardwood floors in your house, it might pay to get some large soft rugs to to help cushion the blow. For some reason, some children go straight from sitting to a strange sort of straight legged crawl (I did as a child I’m told!) and straight to walking. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong (or right) with your kid, nor that you’ve given birth to a super human, it’s just that some babies do. They obviously haven’t learned about the phrase “don’t try to walk before you can crawl”.
Stairs are a whole new discovery. It must be ingrained in babies to learn how to climb stairs. They just love them much to parents’ horror. With a bit of excitement and a touch of fear they just throw caution to the wind and dive in headlong (literally). Unsupervised babies and stairs don’t go well together. For that reason, I can’t stress how important it is to have gates on stairs and to watch them like a hawk as they practice the one leg up a step routine. Getting this wrong and having your child tumble down the stairs might be a mistake that you only get to make once. They typically don’t need shoes at this stage, just some nice socks if their feet get cold.
6 to 12 months (Time to let them run around outside!)
At around the 6 to 8 month mark (or thereabouts - this is not an exact science!) your baby will start trying to stand with the aid of furniture. This is really cool as it is fascinating to watch them work out routes to get to things, while having something to hang on to. I’ve often wondered if we should re-arrange our furniture to allow them to furniture surf to where we want then to go! This next stage, after they learn to stand on their own legs (that wobble around like they are made of play dough) is what I like to call ‘cruising’. From a distance it might look like actual walking, but it’s just their way of learning to master what is actual fact a fairly complex activity. Some call it ‘cheat’ walking, holding onto things and tottering around them. A bit like swimming while staying at the edge of the pool. Some of them will even walk on tip toes during this phase. Before long they will learn to stand without holding on to something for dear life and you will start to think that ther first steps are imminent. There will obviously be a lot of hilarious bum-flopping going on around this stage. Watch out for those full back falls where they smack their little heads on the ground. Not good. If only we, as adults, could still sit down like that without smashing our coccyx. Nappies and thick diapers probably help by providing suitable padding. Not long after than, at around 9 or 10 months old, they will start to learn to bend their knees (yes, they spend quite awhile walking with straight legs and being able to sit down properly, but again, this takes a surprising amount of effort and practice, which shoes on their cute little faces. You will read in books that they should be doing it all by 12 months, don’t get too concerned if they take longer. It’s normal.
At this point, you might want to let them run around outside, which is when the subject of shoes will come up to help protect their little feet. The first thing to remember is that it is really important that they can feel the ground beneath them to help with foot development. Based on we have read online, soft soled shoes such as our Paris T-bars, Luca Boots and Lacy Boots are ideal as they provide some level of protection but still give a good barefoot feel for those critical first steps while still looking stylish and on trend. It is best to avoid hard stiff shoes as this does nothing for their development. It is also important that the shoes are comfortable. How do you know that they are? Watch to see whether your child tries to take them off!
Size matters. Do make sure that you choose the right sized shoe for your little one. Handy sizing guides and conversion charts such as our one here make it a lot easier. It is important that you choose the right size for your child as they don’t know how to complain and can sometimes do themselves harm. It is also important to check your child’s feet for blisters and cuts as well as to periodically do a size check. The old pinch test at the toe never fails when checking baby footwear sizes!
12-18 months: Faster and Faster
This next stage is like watching a the crowds rushing in on Black Friday sales, only far more adorable.
By the age of 13 months, 75% of toddlers will be walking unaided (well, toddling anyway), but many children don’t master it until nearly 2 year of age. Again, don’t worry. Baby walking early problems are really rare. It’s all normal. These ages are just guides – some kids start early, some are busy working on other things, like building brains or hand skills to do other things. I for one was a late walker early talker. My cousin who was born on the same day as me was the opposite, running around but making incomprehensible noises. If you’re concerned at all, talk to your doctor. They’ll be able to figure it out with you, and in most cases tell you that there is nothing to worry about as children all learn to walk a different times, paces and ways. From here one, things start to accelerate with children and toddlers being able to push and pull toys along for the ride.
Now come the exiting (and scary bit) At around 16 months, most kids can try those stairs they’ve been wanting to tackle for so long, but they might not be willing to actually walk up and down them yet. Imagine how big stairs look when you’re knee high. Plus they still aren’t that stable, and a tumble down a full flight of hard wooden stairs is not something to laugh about. It is really important to teach them how to hold onto something as they go up and down, and to watch them as they learn. It’s quite a trick though to balance being safe and being a helicopter parent. Can’t win some times!
Again, soft soled shoes are still recommended at this stage as toddlers and first walkers as we call them are still learning to use their foot and toe muscles. It is also advisable to choose a breathable natural material (such as leather for the upper). On top of that, most children at this age will not wear hard soled shoes as they are generally also not that comfortable. Easy slip on and slip off shoes such as our Loafers and Lacey boots are quite handy at this age particularly if children are going in and out of them a lot. Also, don’t forget to make check the good old baby footwear size chart.
Two years plus: Superspeed - running, jumping, dancing, skipping (almost)
At two years old and beyond your ex-toddler, now a walker will be quite proficient and start to adapt the smooth, but less funny-looking, heel-then-toe motion used by adults. Jumping, running and other fun stuff really starts to kick off over the next 12 months. Before you know it, they will be able to outrun you. It’s really important that we as parents stay fit as they can be quite a mission to chase down. They will also begin at this point to grow out of their soft soled shoes which aren’t really designed for heavy duty running and skidding. However, that isn’t to say that you should go to hard wooden soles (yes we have seen children’s shoes with hard soles!). Flexible, comfortable shoes again made with a soft breathable upper material are ideal. Some example of which are our flexible soles Stella T-bars for children and Classic Oxfords. Funnily enough, the same rule still applies as when they were toddlers. If the shoes are comfortable, then children will wear them!
So what other funny things have you observed as your child learns to walk?