Kids need balance, coordination, and confidence to take their first steps. That's why children reach this milestone at different ages. "My 18-month-old started cruising around 9 months, but he didn't walk until he was a year," says Robyn Kaminski, of Windermere, Florida. "On his birthday, he took three steps, then the next day a few more, and he was off and running." Meanwhile, my girlfriend Maria's daughter, Sofia, walked at 8 months, but my pal Jesse's daughter, Anjali, didn't walk until she was 15 months. "Most pediatricians aren't going to worry about a child who doesn't walk until 15 months if she appears to be neurologically normal in other ways," says Dr. Hannibal.
What to Watch For: If your child isn't walking independently by 15 months, his balance hasn't improved (he can't walk by himself or has an unsteady gait), he falls frequently, seems clumsy, lurches around, and takes very tiny steps, tell your doctor immediately. On the other hand, toe-walking by itself isn't a concern. Alarms start going off, say pediatricians, when a child never puts her feet flat on the floor, and the toe-walking continues past 2 1/2 years. Still, before you panic, have your child evaluated by a physical therapist or pediatric neurologist, because it's likely that constant toe-walking caused the foot muscles to shorten and tighten.
Low muscle tone could also account for difficulty walking. Joanna Hunter, a mom of two, of the Bronx, New York, thought her 17-month-old daughter, Julia, simply wasn't as active as her older son until a pediatric physical therapist diagnosed low muscle tone in her legs and torso. "She told us that at 17 months, Julia had the capacity of a 10-month-old," Hunter recalls. But within six months of twice-weekly physical therapy sessions, she was climbing stairs by herself.
Don't Sweat It
Some kids are early movers, some are late. As a guideline, remember this: "You can still wait two to three months beyond the milestone before you panic," says Michael Wasserman, MD, a pediatrician at Ochsner Health Systems, in New Orleans.
Even so, despite my own pediatrician's reassuring words, irrational thoughts got the better of me. And so, when Fletcher was six weeks shy of his first birthday, my husband and I did what all good parents do: We led by example and got on our hands and knees to crawl on the floor. That didn't work. Even standing at a coffee table, Fletcher was content to stay where he was, playing with whatever was easily within reach. Then we hit on it.
Apparently, the way to Fletcher's mobility was through his stomach. We planted his sippy cup at the far end of the coffee table, then watched as the boy who refused to crawl slowly sidestepped the length of the table in dogged pursuit of that cup. Call it thirst or pure bribery, but our boy was finally cruising.