There are so many miraculous firsts when it comes to babies. Watching your baby roll over for the first time can feel like he or she aced a triple axel at the Olympics. Seeing them use their pincer grasp to grab a Cheerio is cause for wild cheering. Yet, when a baby hasn't accomplished a certain major milestone, like walking, is a different kind of freak-out warranted? If your baby isn't toddling when they're technically supposed to be a 'toddler', what should you do? And perhaps more importantly, what should you never do to get your baby to walk?
Walking is one of those phenomenons that tends to go slowly, slowly, then all at once. I remember my daughter creeping around furniture, gradually building strength and balance, and then one day she was off. Granted she only made it a few feet before tumbling to the floor like a drunken sailor, but that maiden voyage had given her the confidence to keep toddling further. It was clear that she was ready. And that's the number one thing you need to look for in your child when it comes to encouraging them to walk, explains Dr. Richard A. Honaker, MD in an interview with Romper.
But what if your baby isn't showing any signs of readiness, or alternately, what if they seem totally ready and are just sort of stalled? Dr. Honaker, the Senior Medical Advisor for yourdoctors.online, and Dr. Jarret Patton, pediatrician and children's health advocate, weigh in on what you should and shouldn't do to get your kid to walk. Here are the top seven don'ts.
1. Don't Push It
A baby needs to hit certain other developmental milestones before they're ready to walk, like being able to pull up on their own and being able to stand on their own, according to Dr. Honaker.
"Wait until it’s time. Don’t push it. If they’re not ready, they’re not ready. If you get to sort of 15-18 months, that’s when you need to start getting a little concerned, but prior to that you don’t need to worry about it," he says.
2. Don't Use Walkers
The American Academy of Pediatrics has ruled that babies shouldn't be using walkers for two key reasons. One, they don't actually help children learn to walk, and in fact, can delay walking. Two, they may increase a baby's risk of rolling down the stairs, getting burned, or even drowning.
Skip the walker in lieu of a stationary activity center (like a Jumperoo or ExerSaucer) that does actually promote muscle development, says Dr. Jarret.
"Walkers don’t help babies walk and they’re definitely more dangerous. Babies become more mobile than they otherwise would be. Jumperoos can develop musculature. If it’s used within moderation, it’s ok to use those type of devices," adds Dr. Jarret.
3. Don't Forget the Balance Drills
There are all kinds of muscles involved in babies learning to sit, stand and walk. To help develop those muscles, do little baby bootcamps!
"You can bounce them on your lap, with their feet on the front of your thighs, so they get used to bending and flexing their knees, to kind of use those muscles, " recommends Dr. Honaker.
Don't be afraid to get right down on the floor with your baby for these drills and be their personal trainer.
"Grab their hands, then let go, and catch them when they fall," explains Dr. Honaker.
4. Don't Be Afraid to Rearrange Furniture
Cruising is a natural precursor to walking. Babies like to make their way around a room, holding on to furniture for support. But if you're "Type A" and prefer your furniture in 90-degree angles, this might be a time to embrace disorder.
"Line up furniture so they can cruise! It’s no good if they try to cruise and the next piece of furniture is 8 feet away. Temporarily put a chair right there, so they’re all lined up for your little one to cruise on," advises Dr. Honaker.
5. Don't Say No To Push Toys
Push toys may seem like unnecessary clutter in your living room but they are actually quite beneficial for your child's development, according to Kendra Ped, a physical therapist specializing in pediatrics.
"For learning to take first steps, a push toy allows baby to see his legs and feet and practice standing and stepping in a much more natural way," according to Ped.
Additionally, you don't need to make a big investment in a fancy push toy. In fact, a simple card board box might be the best push toy to start with because it puts your child in control, without the wheels spinning out of control, according Dr. Honaker.
6. Dont Skimp on Praise
The other day I caught myself saying, "Bring mommy the ball, good girl, good girl!" and I realized I could just as easily have been talking to a dog.
Dr. Honaker agrees that babies and puppies do share something in common: They respond very well to positive reinforcement.
"Praise is important. Be consistent. Don’t reward your baby with food one time, and a pat on the back the next, and a flashy toy the next. Shower with them praise, but the same kind of praise each time. Just like you would training a dog," he says.
7. Don't Forget About Safety
The truth is, when learning to walk, your baby is going to fall. A lot. But, you want to make sure you're always supervising them and ensuring that the environment around them is safe.
Dr. Jarret cautions, "You should not walk the baby atop a table top or a dresser high off the ground, because they have not developed enough walking skills. They could easily fall. If you're walking with the kid on the floor, that’s perfectly acceptable."
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.