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Help, My Child Isn’t Walking Yet! When Should I Be Concerned?

When should my child be walking” is one of the most popular questions that I’m asked as a physiotherapist (PT). While developmental milestones indicate 9-18 months as average age of first steps, this range is quite big, and often leads to parents being concerned if their baby is not walking by 12 months. Around age one, only 50% of babies are walking independently. This is defined as five steps in a row, without holding on to anything to support them. It should be noted that the age in which a child walks does not indicate future athletic ability or intelligence.  Age of walking is largely determined by genetics (balance, muscle tone, coordination), practice and temperament.  What does this mean for your child?

Genetics

Every child has a different genetic make-up. Some children have higher muscle mass than others, and generally are more coordinated or have better balance. A child with lower tone often walks later, because her muscles are ‘looser’, more flexible, and require increased energy output to control this. As well, children born to parents who were later walkers are likely to walk within a similar timeframe.

Practice

Children require hundreds of hours of practice to master a skill. Children who are placed on the floor to play more often and given more opportunities to practice, generally walk earlier than their peers who aren’t. To increase practice potential, limit the amount of ‘container’ situations: jumpers, exersaucers, strollers, high chair etc., and allow for more time playing on the floor. Allow your children to explore! Help your child practice walking by holding one or two hands, and showing him how to ‘walk’ through the house.

Temperament

Temperament (as many parents know!) is a tricky one. Children who are fussier are often resistant to independent play and show decreased ability to practice without becoming upset or frustrated if they are struggling with a new task. On the flipside, children that are extremely easy going are also later to walk because their care free attitude makes them happy to sit and play with toys without any significant motivation to move and locate new ones. Either way, temperament emerges at a very young age. Some experts will say that true temperament is determined by 6 weeks of age! That being said, the temperament you have is the one you are stuck with, so no matter what temperament it is, you need to work within your child’s comfort level and attention span.

When Should You Be Concerned?

If your child:

  • Is 18 months and not walking yet
  • Resists putting weight on their legs after 12 months
  • Struggles at 12 months to transition from different positions (i,e.  sitting up from a lying down position)
  • Seems behind in other domains (speech, fine motor, communication)
  • Had a difficult birth or post birth complications
  • And lastly, anytime YOU are concerned as their parent!

Sometimes when a child is late in walking, the best thing is to allow ample time to practice and other times very focused exercises will help the child in reaching this milestone. If you have any concerns about your particular child, it is always recommended that you seek the advice or your family doctor, pediatrician or physiotherapist, who will conduct a specific assessment on your child’s development.

Kaite Chircop, BPHE (Hons), MSc.PT

About Kaite Chircop, BPHE (Hons), MSc.PT

Kaite Chircop is a registered physiotherapist with over 7 years of experience. She is passionate about paediatric healthcare and is excited to be part of the team at Boomerang Health. She has a special interest in treating plagiocephaly and torticollis, as well as developmental assessments for young children.

Learn more about Kaite Chircop, BPHE (Hons), MSc.PT

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