A child taking their first independent steps is a pretty big milestone in any parent’s life. Typically developing children generally learn to walk any time between nine months and eighteen months of age. If your child is a late walker (that is, they eventually learn to walk around 18 months of age), the progress towards taking their first independent steps can feel quite slow. However, there can be a silver lining to their later walking, and there are ways you can help your child to finally take those first independent steps.
Babies who learn to walk at 18 months, are a little bit older and wiser than their peers who learnt to walk at 12 months or younger. Eighteen-month-old babies are aware that taking independent steps is a risk. Their sensory systems are more mature so they can feel that they are wobbly. Their cognitive skills are that little bit more advanced, so they know that they need to hold onto something with their hands and they know that taking steps without holding on is a risk. As a result, they are more cautious and less likely to risk taking steps without being sure that they can do it. This means that their progress from walking with hands held or while pushing a pushcart to eventually walking independently can feel much slower for the parent eagerly awaiting those first few steps. They look like they are soooo ready to walk but they just won’t risk walking without their hands holding onto something. However, on the up side, because 18 month old babies are that little bit older, their balance reactions are more mature and they will have mastered standing and stepping before they take the leap of faith to taking independent steps – they will often will be quite balanced when they first start walking and won’t fall over as often.
There are some tricks you can use to help your child develop the confidence to eventually take those first independent steps. If your child is pulling up to standing, cruising (side stepping) around furniture, reaching out to step between furniture (for example stepping between the couch and the coffee table), standing on their own, and walking with their hands held – but just won’t take the leap of faith to take those first steps – here are some ideas to help them along:
- Broomstick walk – holding in front: Hold a broomstick horizontally in front of your child and get them to hold on with both their hands. Facing your child, you will also hold onto the broomstick. Keep the broomstick at around their chest height. Encourage your child to walk forwards as you walk backwards. Because the broomstick is in the air, and even though you are holding it, it is wobblier than pushing a pushcart or a chair around.
- Broomstick walk – holding to the side: Turn your broom upside down so that the brush is facing towards the ceiling. Put the top of the broomstick onto the floor. Get your child to hold onto the broomstick with one hand, while you hold it steady above them. Use the broomstick a bit like a walking stick and get your child to walk alongside it. This will help them to practice walking in a more upright position than if they are using a pushcart, and will also require them to balance on their own momentarily while you lift and place the broomstick in front of them.
- Hoop walk: Have your child stand in the middle of a hoop. Get them to hold onto the hoop, with one hand on either side. While you are holding the hoop in front or behind, encourage them to walk while holding onto the hoop.
- Relay baton or a pool diving circle: Standing beside your child and get them to hold onto a relay baton, a stick or a pool diving circle (the circle toys that sink to the bottom of the pool then you dive down to pick them up again) while you hold the other side. Then walk beside them a bit like you would if you were walking while holding onto their hand, but instead you are holding onto the other end of the baton/circle. By holding onto the baton or circle, your child is not as easily able to rely on you for their balance and stability (unlike when holding hands, you will instinctively and unconsciously hold tighter onto their hand when needed, and they will instinctively pull down on your hand when they need it).
- Leaning with back against a wall then walking: Stand your child with their back against a wall. Take a step or two back, then crouch down and encourage them to walk towards you. By having their back against a wall, they will not be able to squat down to get into a crawling position, so will have to attempt to take steps towards you.
Give these a go at home to help build your child’s confidence with walking on their own. But, as always, if your child is just not progressing as you expect them to, or if you are concerned about your child’s development, please don’t hesitate to take your child to see a children’s physio, a GP, or a child health nurse.
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