Walking is a key factor in a toddler's move toward independence, says Miriam Skydell, founder of Miriam Skydell and Associates, an occupational therapy practice in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. The first steps lead to a host of other positive developments. "The more experience a toddler has maneuvering around her environment, the more she is able to develop balance, visual perception ability, problem-solving skills, [and] motor planning skills and [to] improve her ability to process sensory input from her surroundings," Skydell adds. Toddlers become more like little adventurers, says Jeffrey P. Brosco, M.D., a professor of pediatrics with a specialty in childhood development at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "Exploring the world is a toddler's job," he says, and walking makes that possible.
As your toddling cutie hits her stride with her first steps, a steadier, straighter walk isn't the only thing that's developing and getting stronger. "Walking is definitely a gross motor skill, and once a child gets mobile, it strengthens muscles needed for bigger tasks later, like playing sports," Dr. Brosco says. But all development is related, and it isn't just the muscles that are bulking up. "As children develop the ability to get around, their cognitive development is also improving," he says. This makes sense, as your toddler is seeing more and taking in her surroundings from a brand-new perspective.
When to Expect Walking to Begin
Generally, toddlers will start to walk somewhere between 9 and 15 months, although some tots may take a little longer. "Every child will develop at a different rate," Dr. Brosco says. It can be hard to wait for the day you can jot down your baby's first steps, so if you're wondering when your stationary sweetie may get to stepping, these signs may indicate he'll be moving soon: if he's rolling around a lot, sitting on his haunches more often, pulling himself up to objects like the coffee table, or scooting.
Crawling may be ending soon when you start to see your child holding on to something and moving around it while pulling herself up to stand, Dr. Brosco says. From then on, it won't be long before she's confident enough to let go and take a step or two or more. But don't expect her to be steady enough to strut from room to room. Initially, she will probably just take a few unsure steps until her confidence begins to soar and her muscle development strengthens.
It's always important to stay on top of your child's development, but it can be easy to get caught up in hard dates. Although most children walk at around 12 months, Skydell is quick to point out that some children take their time. In fact, some toddlers can start to walk as late as 15 to 17 months for no other reason than that's when they're ready. But it's never a bad thing to consult with your pediatrician if your child hasn't started showing an interest in walking or cruising by 15 months, Dr. Brosco says. Low muscle tone could be contributing to your child not getting mobile. Other possibilities include certain genetic or birth conditions that have an impact on the development of the nervous or muscular systems.
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