Motor Skills

Walking

Baby walking and pulling The Pull Pup by Lovevery
Topic

Motor Skills

May start as early as

9 to 18 months


Skills that come first

Standing, Sitting, Cruising

Related skills

Crawling, Standing, Running

Walking means big changes for your baby and for you. For your baby, learning how to shift their weight onto one leg to take a step forward with the other means more mobility, independence, and a fresh view. For you, it means keeping up with an active little person who is now officially… a toddler ❤️


In this article:


When do babies start walking?

Your baby’s first steps may happen anywhere from 9 to 18 months of age, a wide range that represents the uniqueness of each child’s development. On average, babies tend to start walking independently between 12 and 15 months. Before that, your baby may walk with support from furniture or the wall—also known as cruising—around 9 to 13 months.

What are the signs my baby will walk soon?

You’ll know your baby is getting ready to take their first steps when you see them testing out pre-walking skills like pulling up to stand, cruising, squatting with support, and standing unassisted. These movements help your baby gain strength and experiment with balance and movement.

Here’s a little more about each stage in the walking progression:

Pulling up to stand (7 to 10 months)

Pulling up to stand is one of the first steps in learning to walk. Babies do this around 7 to 10 months of age, relying on furniture or a caregiver’s hands or legs. Pulling up to stand typically happens after they learn to sit unsupported or crawl. Babies often figure out how to grab a crib rail or other furniture and use their arms to support their body weight.

Babies pull up to stand around 7 to 10 months.

Cruising (9 to 13 months)

When your baby is comfortable with pulling up, and has learned a bit about balancing on their feet, they’ll begin to step sideways while holding onto furniture. Known as “cruising,” this usually happens around 9 to 13 months of age. You can see how this action helps prepare your baby for walking: Furniture helps them balance as they use their legs to take some wobbly steps. 

Cruising along furniture usually begins around 9 to 13 months.

To encourage your new cruiser, some furniture rearranging might be in order. To help your baby safely practice, move a sofa, coffee table, ottoman, or some sturdy chairs closer together. Pad sharp corners and be mindful of places your baby can fall.

Once your baby starts cruising along furniture, you may also see them start to cruise along vertical surfaces, like the wall or the back of the couch. This raises the difficulty level, because they have less support for cruising and are challenged to maintain their balance.

Standing unassisted (10 to 16 months)

As your baby gets more experienced with cruising, they will eventually try to step away from whatever they’re holding onto  for support. Their first few moments of unassisted standing may happen unintentionally, perhaps while transferring an object from hand to hand.

Your baby’s first few moments of unassisted standing may happen unintentionally.

Babies typically learn how to stand without support—at least for a moment—between 10 to 16 months of age. You’ll know those first steps are coming soon when your baby stands unassisted for longer and longer stretches.  Generally, toddlers begin walking about 2 to 2.5 months after learning to stand.

How can I encourage my baby to walk?

The best thing you can do to help your baby learn to walk is to encourage them to experiment with different types of movement. Try these OT- and PT-approved tips:

Go barefoot: Have your baby play barefoot on the floor. This gives them full sensory feedback through their feet and supports healthy foot development. 

Barefoot is best for new walkers.

Rearrange furniture: Set up two pieces of furniture—like a couch and a low table—parallel to each other and with enough space in between for your baby to cruise while holding onto both. Sit or kneel at the opposite end of this aisle from your baby and invite them to come get an interesting plaything or object. Slowly increase the distance between the furniture, so that your baby may need to let go of one support surface to reach the other. Guard them or help them as needed by holding on to their trunk.

Motivate with toys: If your baby can stand unsupported, offer them a toy within their reach, such as the Stainless Steel Jingle Keys. Hold onto the toy as they grasp it, then move it a small distance to see if your baby will step toward it. Try again from a little farther away to see if they’ll take an independent step.

Encourage squatting: While your baby is standing at a wall or by a piece of furniture, hold their favorite toy low to the ground, so that they have to squat to pick it up. Practicing squatting repeatedly will strengthen your baby’s core and leg muscles to prepare them for walking. The Slide and Seek Ball Run is a helpful toy for this activity: After your baby watches the ball slide down, they’ll squat to open the door and grab the ball from the box. Repeat… and repeat 🙂

Pediatric occupational therapist Rachel Coley explains how multi-level play helps build muscle strength for standing and walking in this video from the Lovevery app:

In video: Slide and Seek Ball Run from The Babbler Play Kit

Create some distance: If your baby is reluctant to let go of your finger while practicing walking, try holding a plaything—like a doll or stuffed animal—between you. The confidence they get from being linked to you helps them work on balancing with a less-stable connection point.

Challenge their balance: Once your baby can stand at the couch, turn them around so that their back is to it. Read to your baby in this position, holding the book slightly outside of their reach. Encourage them to turn the pages. Each time they reach, they will briefly move their body off of the support surface to stand unassisted.

Try not to “walk” your toddler. As your toddler gets comfortable taking their first steps, try holding their hand at their shoulder height or down by their sides. If you hold their hands over their head as they learn to walk, your child will rely on your hands for support rather than engaging their core muscles.

Expect falls: Research shows that 12- to 19-month-olds average 17 falls per hour. Falling is a big part of learning to walk 🙃When it happens, try to avoid a negative reaction. Instead, consider saying something purely descriptive: “Down you go,” or even “You fell down.”  

Once your baby starts walking, you’ll notice a lot of horizontal movement—side stepping or waddling side to side with tiny forward steps. Your baby may hold their arms in a “high guard” position like a goal post. With months of practice, their waddles will turn into confident strides as they bring their legs closer together, take larger forward steps, and bring their arms down by their sides.

Supporting your child’s social-emotional skills as they learn to walk

Learning to walk is an emotional experience for some children. With this new skill comes  greater independence—which can be intimidating for some toddlers. 

You may find that your new walker clings to you a bit more than before, or looks to you for reassurance as they practice walking. Learning to walk is a big deal for your child, both physically and emotionally. Even as they begin exploring in new ways, your child still relies on you as a secure base of support and comfort. Offer them plenty of extra hugs, cuddles, and encouragement ❤️

RELATED: Learning to walk is a surprisingly emotional experience for some toddlers

What are the pros and cons of baby walking toys?

Baby walking toys fall into two categories: baby walkers and push toys, which are sometimes called push walkers. 

Baby walkers

Baby walkers that suspend your baby in a seat over a wheeled base are unsafe enough to send thousands of children to the hospital every year. Some research indicates that these types of walkers can also be related to delays in walking. This may be because they don’t support proper muscle coordination and restrict the wobbliness that helps teach babies how to balance. 

Several countries, including Canada, have banned these types of baby walkers, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has called for a ban in the United States. It’s better to allow your baby lots of time to practice pulling up onto furniture and cruising to build their walking skills. 

Push toys

Push toys or push walkers, by contrast, may actually help your baby learn to walk. Play strollers, toy shopping carts, or even a tall cardboard box get your baby in an upright posture and encourage them to use their legs to support their weight, without compromising their joints or development. Look for push toys that have speed-adjustable wheels, a wide rectangular base, and a large upright activity panel to add stability. 

Push toys that have a low or small base and a long handle—like a toy lawn mower—may not provide enough support for cruisers and new walkers. They can be fairly easy to tip over, which is why Lovevery child development experts don’t recommend them. Always stay close and supervise carefully with push toys: Babies may have trouble controlling them and can run into objects or fall down stairs.

What about pull toys?

Once your toddler has experience walking independently, sometime between 15 and 18 months, you can introduce pull toys like the Pull Pup. These help promote whole body coordination, fine motor strength, and problem-solving. Pull toys engage several muscle groups—hand muscles to grasp the string, arm muscles to pull it, and legs and torso to balance. Your child’s eyes need to work with the rest of their body, which gives them practice combining fine and gross motor skills. 

What is ‘toe walking’?

While your child is learning to cruise, they’ll often stand or walk on their tiptoes, especially if their support surface is high off the ground. But even after they learn to walk without support, you may notice them occasionally “toe walk” on the balls of their feet with heels lifted.  

Occasional toe walking is a typical part of your toddler’s development. Rising onto their toes helps with later motor skills like reaching overhead and jumping. An adult’s stride starts when the heel makes contact with the ground, then the weight shifts through midfoot and the ball of the foot propels the body forward. This heel-toe walking tends to emerge once a child is a proficient walker, around 2 or 3 years of age. 

When is toe walking a concern?

In most cases, occasional toe walking is not a cause for concern. But reach out to your pediatrician if your child:

  • Is unable to stand with their heels touching the floor  
  • Walks on their toes a majority of the time 
  • Has developmental differences in any other domain (motor, language, sensory, social-emotional, cognitive)
  • Consistently toe walks beyond 2 years of age

When should my baby start to wear shoes?

Barefoot is best while your baby is learning to walk. The soles of their feet have thousands of nerve endings, making them especially sensitive to vibrations, textures, temperatures, and other stimuli. Whether your baby is lying on the floor, buckled in their car seat, or sitting on your lap, their feet absorb lots of information when they touch different surfaces. 

Let your baby walk barefoot on grass, sand, and other safe surfaces outside. But when shoes are needed to protect their feet, here are some ideas that can help them feel more comfortable:

  • Make a game out of standing on various surfaces. Let your baby stand barefoot on a wet towel, a rough towel, bubble wrap, or a textured blanket to get accustomed to different sensations.
  • Once they’re used to sensory input through their feet, have them wear socks while you hold and cuddle them. 
  • When they’re comfortable with socks, put on their shoes and cuddle them in your lap. Let them play on the floor before standing or walking. The key is to have them try wearing shoes when they aren’t putting weight on their feet. 

What kinds of shoes are best for babies learning to walk?

Toddlers need protective yet flexible footwear when they’re out and about. Here’s what to look for in toddler shoes according to Lovevery’s pediatric occupational therapist, Rachel Coley:

  • Flexible, non-skid soles. Shoes with nonskid soles enable your child to grip the floor when walking and can prevent falls. The soles also need to be flexible to allow for more natural foot movement. How flexible? See if you can fold the shoe in half so the toe and heel touch.
  • A rounded, wide-toe box. The ideal shoe has plenty of space for your child’s toes to spread out—that’s how they learn to balance. 
  • Velcro or straps. Since your toddler’s foot will grow longer and lose fat over time, adjustable straps can ensure a good fit. 
  • A flexible, supportive heel cup. To test flexibility in the heel cup, give it a pinch. It should be firm but have some give. 
  • Minimal bulk. Lightweight shoes are best for toddlers just building the strength and endurance for walking. 

Your child will outgrow their shoes quickly at this age, so try to check the fit about once a month. While your toddler is standing, press down on the front of the shoe. There should be about a finger-width distance between your child’s longest toe and the inside edge of the shoe.

Developmental delays with walking

Each child develops at their own pace, and there’s a wide range for when babies begin walking—9 to 18 months. The average age for walking independently is 12 to 15 months. If your baby isn’t taking a few steps on their own by 15 months or isn’t walking independently by 18 months of age, talk with your pediatrician. They can assess your baby’s developmental path and recommend a physical or occupational therapist if needed. You may also reach out to your state’s early intervention program to see if your baby is eligible for services.

Posted in: 9 - 10 Months, 11 - 12 Months, 13 - 15 Months, 16 - 18 Months, Motor Skills, Gross Motor, Walking, Standing, Balance, Physical Development, Movement, Child Development, Motor Skills

Meet the Experts

Learn more about the Lovevery child development experts who created this story.

Rachel Coley, MS, OT/L
Rachel Coley, MS, OT/L
Rachel Coley is a pediatric occupational therapist and child development expert, and founder of CanDo Kiddo.
Gabrielle Felman, MSEd, LCSW
Gabrielle Felman, MSEd, LCSW
Gabrielle Felman, founder of Felman Early Childhood Consulting, works with children from birth to age 7 to support social, emotional, and cognitive learning.
Maral Amani, PT, DPT
Maral Amani, PT, DPT
Maral Amani is a licensed pediatric physical therapist certified in early intervention who works with children living with disabilities, delays, and neurodivergence.
Amy Webb, PhD
Amy Webb, PhD
Amy Webb, Associate Writer at Lovevery, is a child development scholar and researcher who holds a Doctorate in Human Development and Family Sciences.
Giselle Tadros, PT
Giselle Tadros, PT
Dr. Giselle Tadros is the founder of In-Home Pediatric PT of NJ and Milk Matters PT. She has been helping babies and families in her community for over 20 years.
Zachary Stuckleman, PhD
Zachary Stuckleman, PhD
Zachary Stuckleman is a researcher and child development expert who holds a Doctorate in Developmental Psychology and is the Lead Content Researcher at Lovevery.
Emily Newton, PhD
Emily Newton, PhD
Emily Newton is a writer at Lovevery with over 20 years of experience as a researcher, professor, early childhood educator, and parent. She holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology and an MA in Child Development, with expertise in infant and toddler social, emotional, and socio-cognitive development.

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