That first tiny, tentative move forward is actually a giant leap in child development.
At first, your baby may get around by "combat crawling" -- pulling himself forward with his arms while letting his belly and legs drag on the floor. Or he may choose to scoot sideways or backward on his bottom to get closer to an enticing object. Whichever method of creeping he chooses, your formerly helpless baby is showing you that he's learning how to get what he wants all by himself -- an important step on the road to autonomy.
Once your little one gets up on all fours, she may spend a while rocking back and forth before she figures out how to push off and propel herself forward. Since many babies this age have better-developed arms than legs, she may actually push herself backward the first few times she tries this. Encourage her to practice by placing a favorite toy just out of reach or sitting a few feet away and calling to her. Your excited reaction when she succeeds will only make her more eager to experiment.
Crawling gives your baby an exciting new perspective on the world, but because he sees all the adults around him walking, that's what he wants to do too. First, he will likely use his stronger arm muscles to pull himself to a standing position, taking advantage of whatever's handy -- the couch, the coffee table, or your leg -- to do so. Remember, though, that he may not have figured out how to get back down from this new position! If he cries for your help, go over to him and physically show him how to bend his knees and sit down without falling.
Once your baby is familiar with the feeling of standing upright, she'll try a few tentative steps while holding on to her support. Cruising is a safe way for babies to practice their balance and strengthen their muscles, but make sure that whatever they use for support is well padded and won't topple over.
As your baby's confidence grows, he will periodically let go of his support object, then grab hold again when he feels himself totter. Eventually, though, when Mom or Dad calls from across the room, he'll venture out on his own. Don't be surprised if he makes it only one or two steps at first before sitting down; your loving encouragement and his own sense of accomplishment will keep him trying until he succeeds.
A baby's first walking stance is wide-legged, with his arms held out to protect himself, and he may accidentally get going too fast and fall when he tries to stop. Keep a close eye on him -- not only for safety's sake, but also to savor these special moments. After all, within a few short weeks, your little baby will have turned into a toddler!
Copyright© 2004. Reprinted with permission from the March 1999 issue of Parents magazine.
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