Walking Worries

More Walking Issues

The Issue: He's late to walk.

It may seem like every kid in the playgroup is walking except yours, but it's normal for kids to start toddling any time between 8 and 17 months of age (or later if your baby was premature). "Walking is a complex task that requires strong muscles, the development of nerve pathways, and dynamic balance," Dr. Baicker-McKee explains. If your kid is on the slower side, it doesn't mean he will be less coordinated or intelligent than his peers, she says. 'Still, most pediatricians will evaluate a baby who isn't walking by 18 months -- just to make sure there isn't an underlying problem."

About half of kids will be walking by age 1 and 90 percent by 15 months. "When a child isn't walking by this point, I first check to see if a confidence issue might be holding him back -- he may be scared to take steps without a hand to hold, say -- or if he doesn't have the balance or strength to walk on his own," says Parents advisor Ari Brown, M.D., author of Toddler 411.

If confidence is the issue, Dr. Brown recommends letting your kid practice with a walking toy, like a kid-size grocery cart, or a product like Walking Wings, which is designed to let him walk while you hold on for added support. Avoid baby walkers, which can be dangerous (a child can fall down the stairs) and actually delay walking, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Finally, try not to push your child to walk on his own until he's ready. "It can cause stress and end up delaying those first steps," says Dr. Baicker-McKee.

The issue: Her stride is funny.

When your toddler first starts wobbling along on two feet, her legs are likely to be slightly bowed -- a holdover from her position in the womb. This should self-correct by age 3. "We don't worry about bowlegs unless they're severe or asymmetrical, but you should talk to your doctor if you're concerned," says Dr. Davidson. Walking with one's feet turned a little inward or outward isn't typically a concern, either. "Most of the time, the issue resolves with practice," says Dr. Brown.

However, doctors may take notice if your child persistently walks on her toes. Some kids like gripping with their toes, others do it because they have short Achilles tendons, which makes it harder for them to plant their feet, Dr. Brown says. If your child can't relax her feet and plant them firmly on the ground, have your pediatrician investigate. Although toe-walking has been linked with some developmental problems, including autism, most toe-walkers do not have autism. Unless the behavior is accompanied by other delays, it's probably just one of many phases your kid will go through. Says Dr. Davidson, "Before you know it, she'll be running everywhere and you'll be wondering, 'Why did I want this kid to walk so soon?' "

Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Parents magazine.

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