Learning to walk involves a series of transitions that usually begins when your baby starts pulling up to a standing position in his crib. Next he’ll hold on to a couch or the edge of a step for balance as he moves his feet. Once he can easily cruise from one object to the next, his first solo steps are on the horizon, says Carol Cohen Weitzman, M.D., director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine. Still, this process can often take a few months, so don’t get hung up if that first step doesn’t happen overnight, says Dr. Weitzman. Early walking doesn’t predict academic or athletic success.
While genetics affects when tots take off, other factors come into play too:
Temperament: Cautious kids may be content to just crawl for a while.
Size: “It has to do with proportions,” says Atlanta pediatrician Jennifer Shu, M.D. If a baby is top-heavy, it may take longer to find his balance.
Opportunity: Babies who don’t have as much chance for floor play and movement tend to walk later.
Expect your baby to take his first steps between 8 and 18 months.
Set him on the floor so he has more time during the day to explore and practice. You can also tempt him to walk by placing a fun toy just out of reach on the couch. You want to make him work for it, but don’t make it so difficult that he’ll get frustrated. Allow him to test his footing (without tumbling) by providing a weighted wagon or push car he can lean on. Jumping in a stationary activity center can also help build the muscles in his legs and trunk. And skip the shoes when you’re inside so she can feel the ground and find a better grip.
Your baby’s early, wide-legged gait may remind you of Frankenstein, but moving in this almost side-to-side motion gives him a better center of gravity. He’ll gain more confidence—and a smoother step—in a few months. Within a year, he’ll be running, kicking a ball, and climbing stairs! In the meantime, be prepared for your sweetie to fall a lot as he masters the mechanics. Take tumbles in stride. If you don’t panic, chances are he won’t either.
If your baby isn’t standing and cruising by 12 months or hasn’t taken his first independent steps by 18 months, talk to your pediatrician. Also speak up if your child still walks with a stiff gait after a few months, favors one side of her body, or typically walks on his tippy toes for more than six months.