When Babies are Learning to Walk

Most parents both look forward to and dread the day when their toddler stands up and learns to walk without any physical support. It’s easy to see why any parent may be ambivalent about the event. Learning to walk is a major milestone in a child’s life, an event that’s recorded and replayed for grandparents and neighbors. A child simply beams with satisfaction, confidence and joy when he or she takes a step without holding onto someone or something. But, those first steps are also the first signs of a child growing up and becoming less dependent on the parent. And a walking child is a child who will find more ways to cause problems in the home.

But, a parent can allay those worries by making sure the child learns to become an independent walker. Many of those problems mentioned are the result of clumsiness borne from inexperience — so, the more practical experience a toddler has preparing for the act of walking, the better.

Walking requires legs to use two abilities: balance and alternation. Balance is easy to understand because it is something we had to learn — there was a time when we were unbalanced and, still sometimes, even now. But, for most of us, alternation comes to us so easily that we’re not even aware we’re doing it. Part of that feeling may come from the fact that alternating the legs in a stride seems to be a in-born ability. Tests on babies only one or two months old show that the action of one leg moving, then the other, is natural — if a baby that young had sufficient muscle and could balance, then that baby would be able to walk.

On the other hand, babies are poor judges of risk, the evaluation of which can only come from experience. Other experiments have shown that, when presented with a path of no slope and one of dangerous slope, a baby has no preference. Practice, making mistakes and feeling the consequences of making a choice are all aspects of learning to walk.

It’s comes down to a matter of confidence and positive attitude. A confident child will face a new situation like walking and not be cowed or frightened. Confidence arises from a feeling of competence, of knowing one is capable of an action. Telling a child that he or she is doing a task or activity well is not enough — the child must feel internally that they have accomplished something better than the last time they tried. One way to augment those internal feelings in your child is to give him or her many opportunities to try out a skill like walking. When they make mistakes and fall, let them know that making mistakes is normal and they should keep on trying. Be interested and excited in what your child wants to demonstrate. Find something to praise in their attempts, but do not just say something vague or pretend the attempt was perfect — children will see through your false praise in a second.

Don’t hover, though you should be close by for safety’s sake. Let your child develop a sense of achievement and, in parallel, a sense of self. Do not do the skill yourself for your child — no child learns to walk by parents moving the child’s feet. Let your child step and fall and pick themselves up and try again. Offer encouragement and praise for what the child does right. Soon, the child will scampering out ahead of you and searching their bright new world for exciting discoveries.