Articles and Topics
Shouldn’t my 18-month-old be walking by now?
Q: My 18-month-old child will not walk independently. She will cruise on furniture and walk holding onto one finger of a hand. Otherwise, she drops to her knees and walks on her knees in an upright position (not crawling). My pediatrician is now expressing concern about her development. Should she be evaluated for physical problems? Are there special exercises I can do to help her start walking? She was born one month early.

And a similar question:

My son, who is 17 months old, fears walking alone. He needs one of my fingers as support to walk. If I give him a finger, he holds it and almost runs. He can walk even 30 to 40 minutes at a stretch. But I can’t see why he isn’t walking alone. He never tries to walk alone. If I release my finger, he immediately sits down. Is it simply a lack of confidence, or is there some problem with his legs? He was born one month early.
A: The development of little children is like a dance. Sometimes they want us to lead, but sometimes they insist on leading. Learning to walk is one of the times when they are definitely the leaders. In child development there is a word that is definitely overused and difficult to define; that word is “ready,” or in a more commonly used form, “readiness.” It sounds as though neither of your babies is “ready” to walk independently, and there is little you can do to hasten the act other than what you are now doing—holding their hands and letting them get the “feel” of being on their feet and moving around. Obviously they lack the confidence to let go and need your strength and support for temporary assistance.

Both of your children were born prematurely, and that is clearly a factor in delayed walking. Until they are at least 6 you need to subtract one to two months from their chronological ages in thinking about whether their development is seriously slow. If you make that subtraction for both of your children, you are talking about 15 to 16 month old children. And many perfectly normal children do not walk until that age.

So walk with them. Put toys out of reach to encourage them to walk toward them. Praise the efforts they make. Best of all, get down on the floor and hold them up in front of you, with their fathers or other adults in the same position about two feet away. Try to get them to walk back and forth, quickly catching them if they fall and gradually moving the other person back more and more. Praise success, but try not to make too big a deal out of it.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education