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We Can’t Run Before We Can Walk

These days there is growing pressure on families for their littles to start walking before they can attend childcare (we’ll save the very important conversation of what is currently happening with our childcare centres for another day, but there are reasons and policies on why this is the case, but that is not the topic of this blog).

Your little one's first birthday marks a huge milestone for them. It typically also signals the return to work and the start of childcare, and possibly even a return to somewhat normal life, but for many parents, it also comes with a sudden realization that that next step is contingent on your little one taking their first steps, a milestone they may be far from! Delaying the start of childcare can be inconvenient for working parents, and a significant cause of stress and uncertainty for the family.

This leads to many questions:

Is it “normal” to expect walking by 12 months of age?

When might you be concerned that your child is not yet walking?

Is there anything you can do to help the process?

When is the time to seek help?

Developmental milestones are skills that children typically learn and demonstrate at an approximate age point. They start right from birth and continue as they grow. Using a checklist, you or your health care provider can track how your baby is developing in their communication, fine and gross motor, social and emotional, and cognitive skill sets.

Walking falls within the gross motor category and can happen as early as 8 months and as late as 18 months of age. What a wide range of time!

The story could end there. They’ll walk when they’re ready right? So be patient and enjoy your time with your little one while they are little (and enjoy that they don't move nearly as fast as they will when they start walking).

For some kids, they may just not be ready to walk at 12 months old, and this is likely the majority of kids that aren't walking at a year. Others may have a reason to not be hitting milestones that they would otherwise be expected to meet, one reason may be an underlying health condition that impacts their ability to gain motor skills. Think back to when they started hitting other motor milestones: were they consistently early on most skills, then started falling behind? That may be something to investigate. Were they consistently a few months behind, but always meeting the milestones? That might just be what's normal for them. Kids with older siblings that walk may meet milestones sooner because they're so eager to keep up with their big brother or sister, or they may be content to sit and observe. These are all factors that go into kids hitting milestones earlier or later than we'd expect, and they're all normal.

There are several key stepping stones that our littles must achieve before they can walk, ones that you can easily test in the comfort of your own home. Can your child:

  • Support their own weight in standing while holding onto your hands?

  • Stand up from a sitting position?

  • Bend down to pick up a toy while holding onto furniture?

  • Cruise along furniture?

  • Stand alone?

If the answer is no to any of these skills, then working on those FIRST can build the strength, balance and control required for independent walking.

You can encourage movements and play with activities like:

  • Standing up from a bear crawl position

  • Standing with more weight on one foot

  • Crawling and climbing

  • Placing toys on the couch for them to stand and play with, encouraging them to get there by themselves by pulling up, but assist them when needed

  • Pulling up and standing at a pikler triangle or similar toy

  • Practicing standing while holding your hands

  • Dancing and weight-shifting to a fun song that they love

  • Making experimentation with movement fun by cheering and encouraging them to make the frequent tumbles less scary

The best part about these activities and navigating motor milestones is that you don't have to do it alone. A physiotherapist or early childhood development worker who works with children can screen your child's developmental milestones at any time point. If you feel they are not meeting certain skills or need help, earlier intervention is much better than waiting and seeing.

Parents, it's important to know that it is ok that your child doesn't walk on their first birthday and that, despite wanting to get them into childcare and get back to work, we won't have much success forcing them to walk on our timeline. The best thing you can do is monitor your child's milestones, work on the building blocks for walking, and enlist the help of your favourite paediatric physiotherapist to help support you and your family along the journey. We can’t run before we can walk, though for some toddlers it sure looks like they take off running once they have figured things out!

For more information on developmental milestones, you can visit the Canadian Pediatric Society


Stephanie Sollazzo is a Registered Physiotherapist, wife, mother, yoga teacher, and self-professed lover of homemade Italian food (especially when her sons make the noodles). She is passionate about helping moms return to activity after pregnancy, and working with children of all ability levels. If you can't find Steph at CONNECT, the only place to look for her is outside enjoying Grey Bruce. To book an appointment with Stephanie, click here

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