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All Children Go at Their Own Pace

Learning to walk: All children go at their own pace.

As the 16-month-old boy crawled quickly from one end of the yard to the other, his father looked on in dismay.
“Stand up and walk,” he instructed.

The toddler stopped and glanced at his father momentarily then, at a rapid-fire pace, resumed motoring along on all fours.The way most parents see it, learning to walk is the quintessential physical milestone in the life of a baby. But, to the disappointment of anxious parents, lots of children don’t take their first steps until they’re well into toddlerhood, which officially begins at 12 months of age.

While waiting watchfully for a child to take off on two limbs, it’s important to remember that the age range considered “normal” for first-time walkers covers a wide spectrum. Dr. Charles Shubin, director of Pediatrics for Baltimore’s Mercy FamilyCare, says the range runs between 9 and 18 months of age, though 12 months is the average age at which babies begin to walk.

As some parents watch guardedly to see their children take those first tentative steps on two shaky legs, others witness something altogether different—their children walk before they crawl. Though it seems contradictory to normal physical development, it’s not uncommon for children to begin walking before their knees ever get a workout.

Rest assured, Shubin says, there’s no evidence that babies who choose to walk before crawling, or who eschew crawling altogether, miss out on any significant developmental milestones.

Child development experts have made some interesting observations about why some typically developing children choose four-legged over two-legged mobility, and vice versa. Pediatrician and parenting guru Dr. William Sears’ believes that late walkers tend to be content to observe their world from the floor, watching whatever’s happening around them and using their fingers to explore what’s close at hand. Children who appear less focused on physical movement may be more interested in developing cognitive skills such as talking, suggests Dr. Robert Needlman, a pediatrician and columnist for Scholastic’s Parent & Child magazine.Early walkers often have a different agenda altogether, theorizes Sears.

He refers to this group of babies as “impulsive” and “motor-driven,” and guesses that they probably were never content to sit on someone’s lap, even as younger infants.

Eventually, all typically developing children learn to walk unassisted, and at their own pace. But if a child reaches 18 months of age and still shows no signs of preparing to walk—isn’t pulling up on furniture or scooting along furniture holding on with his hands—then it’s probably time to consult a pediatrician. Otherwise, enjoy this stage while it lasts, advise the experts.

“I tell parents, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Once they start walking, it’s like nothing can stop them,” Shubin says. BC

For More Online

Visit the PBS website The Whole Child,, for a timeline on your baby’s physical development.

© Baltimore’s Child Inc. 2008

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