The different stages of learning to walk

From helpless blob to drunken sailor, here’s what you can expect.

dad teaching toddler to walk

Watching your kid learning to walk is one of the best parts of being a dad. It’s also freakin’ hilarious.

When my son first tried to waddle a few steps, I had a moment’s thought that I should probably push him over, because his mum wasn’t there to watch.

Fortunately our second child made up for it – she took her first steps into the outstretched arms of her beloved big brother, with both mum and I watching.

In terms of moments of family ecstasy, only arriving at the gates of Disneyland together has ever come close to being filled with so many toothy grins.

But each absurdly wobbly step for the first couple of months is a source of both joy and fear. A wandering baby is about as predictable as a meth-head on a suburban train – you never know which way they’ll turn at any given moment, and whether you’re about to receive a head-butt for being too close to the action.

You also never know when they’ll faceplant, because toddlers are so hilariously bad at walking for so long. And you’ll marvel at the sheer stupidity of a species that is born without the inherent knowledge that, if you fall forward, you should put your hands out to protect you.

How we humans have survived in the face of this stupidity is a genuine mystery of the universe.

Then, as they get bigger – and slightly more coordinated than a tranquilised elephant – they fall less and you get to start toddling middling distances with them. There’s this magical phase where they can walk, and want to, but only if you’re holding their hand.

It’s a beautiful bonding moment when a tiny, taut hand disappears into your enormous one, and holds on like life depends on it.

Once they let go and run off, swaying side to side like that tranqued elephant coming out the other side, it’s a big moment – they’re letting go of you and they’ll never need you quite as much again.

Your little burping, gurgling and farting baby ain’t a baby no more.

But before that, stages. So many stages. Don’t waste time checking websites to make sure your kid is meeting each one on a schedule (yes, we realise the irony in our stage-by-stage rundown below), because it really doesn’t matter. The longer it takes, the longer you get to enjoy it.

You may never laugh this much ever again.

Pre-Baby steps

When a baby is just a few weeks old you can hold them up and they’ll push their legs down against any hard surface. No, you have not fathered a genius who’s going to start playing the piano at age one. This is a simple, natural reflex – and the babe’s legs are about as likely to hold them up as yours are to outrun a gazelle. Or a lion.

From about the five-month-old stage, you’ll be able to balance your baby standing up on your thighs and they’ll bounce up and down, looking like they’ve just won the lottery.

You really will need to keep hold of their hands or hips at this stage – their legs can take their weight, but a five-month old is about as balanced as Mark Latham. Just like ol’ Latho, they aren’t ready to walk around among humans.

This bouncing helps the little leg muscles to grow though, and will become a favourite playtime activity you can do together, while babe gets on with fun things they can do themselves like rolling over, sitting up (again, not as easy as you’d think) and then crawling.

Crawling is a bucket of laughs to watch as well, particularly in the early stages when they get stuck in reverse and propel themselves around the house butt-first.

They’ll get the hang of it pretty soon and realise that forward is the way to go. Again, prepare for face-plants aplenty at this stage – if you’ve got tiled or hardwood floors in your house, spend a few bob on a decent rug to help cushion the blow.

For some reason, some children go straight from sitting – or a weird kind of anti-crawl bum-dragging manoeuvre, to standing and walking.

It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your kid, nor that you’ve given birth to a super human, it’s just a thing some babies do. They don’t care about the phrase “don’t try to walk before you can crawl”.

Stairs are a whole new discovery. For some reason babies look at stairs the same way you used to look at an open bar at a wedding – a bit of excitement, a touch of fear about whether you’re up to this task, and a quick decision to throw caution to the wind and dive in headlong.

I’m not advocating hovering over your child 24 hours a day, but think of the last time you were at an open bar (pre-baby) – how well did that turn out? Babies and stairs aren’t a great mix. Baby gates are your friend.

Eight to 12 months – ish

At roughly the eight-month mark (not the day they turn eight months old, it doesn’t work like that), your baby will start trying to stand with the aid of furniture. Truly, our modern children have so many softly upholstered advantages over our primate ancestors.

The next stage, after they learn to stand on legs that look like they’re made of slinky toys filled with jelly, is called ‘cruising’, which isn’t nearly as adult as it sounds.

From a distance it might look like actual walking, but it’s just their way of learning what is obviously quite a complex activity. It’s basically ‘cheat’ walking, holding onto things and tottering around them – that thing you do leaning on the edges of a pool table after a few too many.

Before long they will learn to stand without holding on, but not exactly still, and will start to tease you with the idea that the first steps are imminent. There’s also a lot of hilarious bum-flopping going on around this stage.

If only we, as adults, could still sit down like that without smashing our coccyx. Nappies probably help by providing suitable padding – but woe betide the parent on nappy duty when a butt-flop follows a turd.

No amount of elastic around the edges will hold it in – leaving your beautiful young baby looking like it’s sitting in the middle of a Jackson Pollock painting.

At around nine or 10 months your child will start working on bending those impossibly pudgy knees and being able to sit down properly, but again, this takes a surprising amount of effort and practice.

A textbook baby will master standing, stooping and squatting by 11 months, and may even be walking while holding your hand. In just a few more weeks the first incredible steps, generally on tiptoe with their feet turned out in Chaplinesque fashion, will be taken.

12-18 months: getting the hang of it

This next stage is like watching a drunken sailor on shore leave in search a willing female companion for the evening. Only far more adorable.

By the age of 13 months, three quarters of toddlers will be walking unaided (if you can call it ‘walking’), but many children don’t master it until 17 or 18 months of age.

Again, these timelines are just guides – some kids start early, some are busy working on other things, like building brilliant brains that might one day work out a way to cure cancer or colonise Mars.

If you’re concerned at all, talk to your GP. They’ll be able to figure it out with you, or at least put your mind at ease.

From this point on, things move at pace, with most kids getting pretty capable at the walking thing by 15 months and able to push and pull toys along for the ride.

Around 16 months, most kids can try those stairs they’ve been wanting to tackle for so long, but they might not be willing to actually walk up and down them yet. Imagine how big stairs look when you’re knee high.

By 18 months, your little miracle will be kicking balls (finally – they’ll be balls that aren’t attached to you), trying to climb over absolutely everything and dancing like a dag when you play music.

Two years plus: try to keep up

By the age of two your child will be quite proficient and start to adapt the smooth, but less funny-looking, heel-then-toe motion used by adults.

Jumping, running and other fun stuff really starts to kick off over the next 12 months. That’s the point you’ll wish you hadn’t succumbed to the dreaded ‘dad bod‘ – because once they’ve learned how to run, you’ll have to be able to chase them down.

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