Dear Mr. Dad: My best friend and I have 10-month-old boys who were born only a week apart. His started walking about a month ago but mine is still crawling and has absolutely no interest in walking. I know I shouldn't compare my baby to anyone else's, but it's hard not to. Is there anything I can do encourage my baby to walk?
A: Theoretically, it's possible to encourage your baby to walk, but I strongly encourage you not to. On average, babies take their first steps at about 12 months, so there's nothing to worry about. But, the range is pretty big, from nine to 18 months. How early – or late – a child starts to walk depends on a number of factors:
– Genetics. If you and/or your partner were early or late walkers, chance are good that your child will be too.
– Birth circumstances. If your baby was born prematurely, he'll probably be a late walker. Researchers have found that very low-birthweight, preterm infants learn to walk at an adjusted age of 14 months (meaning their actual age plus the number of months they were born early). Premature babies usually catch up to their agemates by the time they're three, but the more premature the baby, the longer it takes to pull even.
– Older siblings. Having a brother or sister who's a few years older sometimes gives babies a little extra incentive to walk early.
– Medical issues. Your baby may learn to walk late if he had to go through a lot of medical intervention early in life, or if he simply got sick or had a bad fall right when he was about to take his first steps.
– Scheduling issues. Your baby has a lot going on now, including learning to speak, trying to identify everything in sight, and establishing his independence. And he may simply have decided that walking isn't that much of a priority – especially if he's a fast crawler.
– Environmental factors. Slippery floors, bulky clothing, and parents who gasp every time the baby looks like he's going to fall, can contribute to delays in walking.
Crawling is a major developmental phase, and a number of studies have found that babies who skip it may have problems later in life. To start with, crawling is a full-body workout that builds strength, coordination, and balance. Crawling exercises the hands, fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and legs. Some child development experts believe that children who don't crawl may have trouble later in life with basic tasks like getting dressed and feeding themselves, and they often have messier handwriting (because their fingers are weaker). They may also lag behind their peers in athletic ability (because, their whole bodies are weaker). Crawling may also help boost babies' cognitive, visual, and spatial abilities.
In fairness, I should point out that many equally qualified experts believe that it's perfectly fine for babies to skip the crawling phase and that those who don't crawl turn out perfectly fine. They point to studies that indicate that babies who learn to stand at nine months do better on intelligence tests at age four than babies who didn't stand until 11 months.
Bottom line? Learning to walk early won't make your baby a genius, and neither will crawling for another few months. Your baby will learn to walk when he's darn good and ready, and there's nothing you can – or should – do to change his schedule.
(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to email@example.com.)