Beginning to walk
Most babies can move forward on their own two feet by their first birthday. Some are only at the stage where they pull themselves up to stand by grabbing on to furniture and then they cruise along slowly with support. Others will cruise along more smoothly and confidently, moving hand over hand. Others may cruise and periodically let go, toddling for a few unsupported steps. Some will walk without any support at all.
Keep in mind that early, impulsive walkers are sometimes more awkward and injury-prone than later walkers, who may walk more assuredly once they finally begin walking. The age of walking doesn't predict your baby's intellectual or athletic ability. At this stage, he's learning to talk, and he's beginning to acquire fine motor skills, so some of his energy and attention may be focused in these areas. Give him lots of chances to practise his techniques. He won't want to be confined to a stroller, high chair, or playpen for long.
From cruising to toddling
Once your baby is cruising confidently, you can encourage him to cross small gaps between one piece of furniture and the next. Gradually widen the gaps so that eventually he will be motivated to toddle a few steps across the open spaces. He may be ready to try walking, supported by your hands. You might encourage him to take steps on his own by positioning yourself a few steps away and saying, "Walk to daddy," so that he is motivated to toddle into your inviting, supporting arms.
At first, your toddler's walking style will be awkward and unsteady. He'll weave, wobble, and waddle, lurching forward and falling time and again. With practice, his walk will progress from a wide, stiff-legged gait to a more rhythmic, knee-bending gait, with the feet closer together. In time, he'll begin to stride forward briskly, with an authoritative marching gait. To help him gain control over his walking, take him out to a big, open space like a park where he can move around and fall freely. He will love it.
In the first stages of walking, your toddler won't use her hands for any purpose other than balance or support. Once she becomes more comfortable with the process of walking, she'll begin to use her hands to carry, play with, or pick up toys. As she learns to stoop over and pick up toys, her balance will improve.
She'll love toys that she can pull or push along while walking, like a wagon, pushcart, or toy animal on a leash. If you put toys on a shelf close to the floor, she might toddle over to get her own toys or put them back. Of course, sometimes she'll just sweep her hand across the shelf and knock the toys onto the floor.
Toddlers still like walking with a parent, holding on with one or both hands. Once your toddler can walk around, it's great to explore the world outdoors in parks, playgrounds or quiet neighbourhood streets. As her walking becomes more proficient, she'll start to concentrate on what she sees while you're walking or listen while you talk about what you both encounter.
You may notice that your toddler will comfortably toddle off on her own while you stay still or sit down. She knows you're there as a secure base, so she feels free to move around and explore. Researchers note, however, that if the child is left alone or with a caregiver she doesn't know, she moves around and explores a lot less and plays less freely.
Then you may find that she won't follow you when you start moving away to take her home. If you try to take her hand, she may refuse it or stop and start many times. When you move, she may feel that you're going away from her when she wants to be close to you. You'll need to carry her or put her in a stroller if you want to move more quickly.
Just like adults, toddlers have very individual walking styles. Some toddlers start out walking with their feet turned out, but later they turn their toes in. During their second year, it's very common for their toes to turn in because of a natural change in the angle of the upper leg as it meets with the pelvis. Also, because babies don't develop much of an arch in their foot until later, they often compensate while walking by turning their feet inward. The condition of intoeing does evolve over time and very rarely needs surgical intervention. However, if the pigeon toes interfere with walking or don't straighten out over the next year or two, or if your toddler walks in some other unusual way, consult your doctor.
On the run
A child's advance from walking to running is an exciting, but challenging, new development. Your toddler suddenly has a new-found power and ability, and can dart away from you at any time. At first, she may often trip and fall until she learns to bend her knees more and lift her feet higher.
Try to set aside times each day when she can go outside to run and play. It's safer and more fun than bumping into furniture and walls in the confined spaces of home. Take her into the open space of your yard, a park, or a playground and watch her run, climb, kick, and jump freely. Give her lots of opportunity to play in wide open spaces so that she can improve her abilities at running, climbing, and jumping. In doing so, she will learn to control, coordinate, and manage her body. She may enjoy playing with a ball as you show her how to roll it and run after it. Once she can run, she'll love to play games where she runs away from you and you try to catch her.
In the latter part of the second year, your child's urge to climb anywhere and everywhere increases, and he'll try to climb up steps, or onto chairs, sofas, and tables. A climbing toddler may climb out of his crib and let you know it's time to move him into his own bed. Be vigilant, but provide opportunities for him to climb safely.
A toddler loves to climb up stairs, but you'll need to help him come down safely. You might get, or make, a set of three or four steps with a small platform at the top on which he can play and practise climbing. Toddlers also take great pleasure in climbing up, over, and down daddy or mommy. Climbing up and sliding down is also good training and great fun-whether at the park or at home. Cheer him on as he develops each new skill; recognizing his accomplishment spurs him on to the next achievement.
Jumping for joy
Once your toddler can run, she will soon be jumping. Give her the encouragement and the space, and she'll be jumping up and down for the sheer exhilaration of experiencing this new gymnastic manoeuvre. Put on some catchy music. Your toddler will feel the rhythm, invent her own steps, jump to the music, and do her own little dance. You'll both love dancing to the beat of each other's steps.
Cushioning a fall
Toddlers learning to walk will inevitably take quite a few falls. Since you can't prevent your child from falling, it's much safer to let him walk on carpeted surfaces than on hard, slippery floors. It's also much better for his confidence if he doesn't hurt himself or give himself a fright. Bare feet are best for walking at first, because the child can feel the floor and use his toes for balance. Socks alone on a hard, slippery floor can be treacherous, unless you choose nonslip socks. Shoes, if used, should be light and flexible, but have nonslip soles.