How to Teach a Baby to Walk

Baby walking

Verywell / Photo Illustration by Madelyn Goodnight / Getty Images

Healthy babies develop at different rates—and learning to walk is no different. Many parents worry if their child has not hit this key developmental milestone by their first birthday. But, you may be relieved to know that 1 year is too soon to begin to worry.

This article explains the signs you might notice as your baby starts approaching the walking milestone, how you can encourage them, and symptoms of delay that may warrant a conversation with a pediatric healthcare provider.

What to Look For

While plenty of babies take their first steps by 12 months or before, it's also perfectly normal for a child to not be walking at their first birthday or even several months after. In fact, many babies don't start toddling at all until around 13 months. Some may not walk until 15 to 16 months of age—and that's still in the typical range.

"Many babies don't walk by their first birthday," says Alisa Baer, MD, board-certified pediatrician and member of Verywell Family's Review Board. Instead of looking at walking alone, Dr. Baer looks for other milestones, like whether your child can bear weight on their legs when supported by 12 months, pull themselves up to a stand by 15 months, and cruise (walking while holding onto objects for support) by 15 months.

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How to Encourage Walking

Even though your child is operating at their own pace, you can always give a little encouragement. Your baby may be more likely to explore on two feet with these activities.

Let Them Go Barefoot

Babies need good traction to move around. "Kids can often have the best grip when barefoot on a surface with good traction (not a slippery floor)," says Dr. Baer. "So letting your child go barefoot while in the house whenever possible can help. With shoes, those that have flexible soles are best for new walkers."

Move the Action Upward

Maybe your child is an expert crawler who finds little interest in walking. If they're entirely mobile and crawling serves them well, they may be less motivated to experiment with walking. If you start to move the action off the floor, however, they might be suddenly interested in giving walking a go.

Start putting toys on the edge of the couch or up on a coffee table. Then, when that has their interest piqued, and they are regularly pulling up and cruising the furniture, move the coffee table a little further from the couch, so they have to take an unassisted step to get from one place to another. (Be sure to baby-proof any hard edges or corners of your furniture.)

Entice Them With a Toy

Let your child pull up using a sturdy chair if you're sitting on the floor. Position yourself a couple of feet away with a favorite toy and see if they try to take a step to get to you or the toy.

To encourage movement, avoid routinely providing a little circle of toys right around your child on the floor, as proximity to easy entertainment can discourage exploration. Instead, try spreading toys out around your child so they have some motivation to get moving. Not so much that it's frustrating, but just enough out of reach that they are willing to work for it a bit.

Additionally, you can offer your child toys to hold when standing. Sometimes the feeling of holding something can help. "Some kids will take more independent steps in the beginning when their hands are full (each holding a small toy or object) rather than empty," says Dr. Baer. "Egg shakers are great for kids to hold, as they make noise as the child moves." 

Offer Free Time on the Floor

Other children may not be interested in walking because they don't get a lot of opportunities to practice. For example, some children are perfectly content to hang out playing in an exersaucer, high chair, playpen, crib, or even in your arms or a carrier.

That's perfectly fine, but make sure you also give them plenty of time to roam freely on the floor (supervised, of course), so they can put those emerging large motor skills to use.

"Be sure your child has a safe area to play on the floor that has safe objects for them to pull to stand on," says Dr. Baer. She adds that parents should also ensure that furniture—especially TVs and anything with drawers that pull out—is anchored to the wall for safety.

You might think that an exersaucer, jumper, or stationary sit-in "walker" (note that mobile baby walkers are not safe, as they can cause injury) is helping your baby learn to stand and walk. However, research has found just the opposite.

In fact, despite the names of these products, research shows that these baby "walking" aids don't help babies walk sooner, can hinder their progress toward the first steps, and even disrupt a child's natural gait.

Babies use different muscle groups with these devices than when learning to walk. In addition, they rely on the device to catch them instead of learning to balance themselves.

Luckily, a child who loves the exersaucer is also likely to love toys with a wide, supportive base and wheels with a slow, restricted roll. These safe toddler walker toys provide something secure to hold onto as children learn to walk and balance. As a bonus, these products take up a lot less floor space.

Safety Precautions

If you're worried about your child getting hurt while learning to walk, remember this: Falls are going to happen—often when you're right by their side or just out of reach. Your child will lose their balance, fall, bump their head, or cut their lip.

It's natural to want to keep them safe from any harm, but it's important to let your toddler take the necessary tumbles along the way to learning to walk—that's why they're called toddlers, after all. A few bumps and bruises are part of the learning process, and there's little you can do to prevent them (aside from baby-proofing).

Focus on what you can do to keep your toddler safer. For example, you can add a bumper around edges or sharp corners of furniture, purchase toddler socks with grippy soles, and invest in area rugs for those spots where your child often plays.

Alisa Baer, MD

Be sure your child has a safe area to play on the floor that has safe objects for them to pull to stand on.

— Alisa Baer, MD

And when they do fall? Just be ready with a bandage, a hug, an encouraging "good job," and a kiss for their boo-boo.

When to Call the Doctor

Most kids will begin to walk sometime between their first birthday and around 16 months, no matter what their parents do or don't do. However, be sure to discuss your concerns with a pediatrician if your child still hasn't shown any interest in walking by 15 to 16 months, particularly if they are late on other milestones.

If your child has any of the following signs, you should contact a doctor:

  • Suddenly stops walking
  • Does not take any independent steps by 15 months
  • Cannot walk independently by 18 months
  • Walks unsteadily at 2 years
  • Has an unusual gait at 3 years

Sometimes, a delay in walking can signify a developmental delay that requires treatment, or another medical issue could be at play. Usually, though, everything is fine, and your toddler may start toddling any day—even after showing no signs of trying just a week or so before.

A Word From Verywell

Most parents anxiously await their child's first steps—and it is super exciting to watch your baby learn to walk. But try to be patient and not worry too much about when it happens. Instead, savor the big moment when it comes—and be ready with a kiss and a bag of frozen veggies or a popsicle to soothe those bumps and bruises that come hand-in-hand with first steps. If your child hasn't taken any steps by 15 months, bring this up with a healthcare provider.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jenni OG, Chaouch A, Caflisch J, Rousson V. Infant motor milestones: Poor predictive value for outcome of healthy childrenActa Paediatr. 2013;102(4):e181-e184. doi:10.1111/apa.12129

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Important milestones: Your child by eighteen months.

  3. Schecter R, Das P, Milanaik R. Are baby walker warnings coming too late? Recommendations and rationale for anticipatory guidance at earlier well-child visitsGlob Pediatr Health. 2019;6:2333794X19876849. doi:10.1177/2333794X19876849

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Physical developmental delays: What to look for: Walk.

Additional Reading

By Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown is a parenting writer with experience in the Head Start program and in NAEYC accredited child care centers.

Updated by
Kathi Valeii
Person with shoulder-length hair, wearing clear glasses and a denim jacket leans against a building.

Kathi Valeii is a freelance writer covering the intersections of health, parenting, and social justice.

 

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