When your baby starts walking: 6 tips to encourage walking

Updated May 30, 2023
When your baby starts walking: 4 tips to encourage walking | Huckleberry

Alongside their first smile and first word, starting to walk is the BIG one, eh? Those first steps. You may have been poised with your camera ready for a while now!

It’s a big milestone for babies, and often the culmination of months of amazing progression in learning how their bodies sit, roll, move, get up, and then start to bear weight. 

It’s easy to ask ourselves lots of questions at this stage. Perhaps about the stages of walking, or wondering whether your little one has a bit of a different style to the other children you know. 


IN THIS ARTICLE:

Walking stages

6 tips and tricks to encourage your baby to walk

Walking styles

Does walking affect sleep?

Walking FAQ


Editor’s Note

We would like to preface this article by emphasizing the importance of recognizing that each child is unique and develops at their own pace. While we strive to provide helpful information on average milestones, it is crucial to remember that there is a wide range of normal development. Your child's individual needs and circumstances may influence their walking journey.

For many little ones, their path to walking follows some fairly predictable steps, however for others, they may move faster or slower through the steps and even miss out one or two and just make the leap.

Some kiddos may master the art of standing independently and be quite happy sticking there for a while. Typically, children tend to follow the following stages when learning to take their first steps:

  • Pulling to stand

  • Turning and looking while standing (but with one hand holding on to a person or object to steady themselves)

  • Standing independently, hand free

  • Cruising along furniture (with growing confidence and speed)

  • Walking with support from an adult (two hands)

  • Walking with support from a walking aid (push-along toy)

  • Walking with one-handed support

  • Taking their first few steps!

  • Walking on even ground, then progressing to less even ground and the outdoors.

Walking is complex and all the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones have to become accustomed to this new style of movement [4]. Our body also needs to understand where our feet are and what they’re doing! Going barefoot helps this development. As cute as those baby shoes are, try to let your little one practice these skills shoe-free.

Your kiddo can turn and look or reach out in the direction you’d like them to move in. Intriguing objects work too! Does your little one like the TV remote? Hold it out right beyond their reach. 

You can position pieces of furniture close together to provide a path and encourage cruising along the furniture! Be their guide and indicate where to go. As they practice their newfound cruising skills and start to gain confidence, you can start to increase the gap between the items of furniture adding the next level of challenge.

Some surfaces are naturally slippery, whether that's a glossy floor tile or a laminate on the floor. This is harder to grip for your little one and may make it more of a challenge.

If you’re encouraging the early stages of walking then carpet is ideal. You can bring in trickier surfaces as they get more confident. In the meantime, a rug or even a yoga mat may be helpful for your baby to grip. 

Pick one that they can push along, like a trolley with bricks and blocks in it rather than one they can sit in and self-propel. The AAP [5] has called for a ban on the manufacture and sale of sitting baby walkers with wheels (self-propelled ones).

A baby using a push-along walker.

If your baby is standing with their back against a piece of furniture or a wall, then sit in front of them and encourage them to reach out and start that forward movement

Remember that emotions may transfer. Project confidence and encouragement. If they take a little tumble it's a natural part of the process! Sing songs, clap, and encourage your little one to enjoy the process.

1) The toddle: The toddler “toddle” is the most obvious style of walking in this age group, and also the most likely. 

Typically their legs will be wide and there's a real effort made with a little delay before moving one leg and then the other. As they get a little quicker, the “toddle” becomes a little more pronounced until they start to gain more control. 

A photo demonstrating the toddle walk.

2) The cowboy: You may also notice your toddler walks a little more like a cowboy! Some kiddies have bow legs where their ankles touch but their knees are further apart. This is considered to be a normal stage of development, gradually becoming less distinctive over time, although if you’re concerned about the amount of bowing, please do discuss this with your child’s doctor.

A photo demonstrating the cowboy walk.

3) The duck: Some children also walk like a duck with their toes turned out. It's also known as “out-toeing” and they can look a little clumsy while walking. Then there’s also the opposite, children who walk with their toes turned in! 

For both, this is usually just a short period and the body will self-correct. Again, if you remain concerned, best to have a discussion with your pediatrician.  

A photo demonstrating the duck walk.

4) Toe walking: Are they on their tippy toes? This is also quite normal and they’re learning to walk in different and more complex ways. This also may feel more comfortable to them in the early stages of building all those muscles in the feet and legs. 

However, if this seems to be the only (or main) way your child walks, or they struggle to put their heels on the floor (or look uncomfortable when they do) then discuss it with your doctor.

A photo demonstrating the toe walking, on tippy toes.
  • Asymmetry: Talk to your medical provider if you notice any asymmetry, especially if they are dragging one leg or one foot is turning in.

  • Repeated falls: Some tripping and falling are absolutely part of the learning process in childhood and bumps and bruises are part of the natural course of learning. However, if your little one is consistently falling and tripping then please raise this concern with your child’s doctor.

  • Discomfort or pain: Any limping, pain, or discomfort when learning to walk is something that we should be discussing early on with the pediatricians. 

Yes, it can! In fact, any big development, whether that’s intellectual or physical, can affect your child’s sleeping pattern. Often they get excited and want to practice their new skills at nap time or at night. This may make drifting off to sleep more difficult or result in more night wakings or early mornings.

This phase is often temporary and will resolve once the skill has been mastered.

Walking FAQ

Q: When do babies start walking?

A:

There's a wide variation in when kids begin to take their first steps. Indeed, you may see that some children take a couple of promising steps, then sit back and don’t do much more for another few weeks. The average age we can expect a child to walk is around 15 months of age [1], although the typical range is actually anywhere between 10 - 18 months [2].

Q: What are the stages of a baby walking?

A:

Just remember that this varies. Lots of children will follow a similar pattern, although others will skip stages. Usually, after your baby has developed enough core strength to sit and move around (perhaps through a shuffle or competently crawling) the next stage is usually to start pulling up to stand. When standing, they may start to reach out, using furniture to support their body weight as they get used to standing with support and also independently. With a little practice, your baby may start to cruise using the furniture (and any other handy object!) to move around their space with increasing ease. Then they may even find an object that is moveable (for my son it was a dining room chair) which becomes a natural walking aid. Next step - freedom!

Q: What is the walking age range?

A:

On average, it’s anywhere between 10 - 18 months of age so it is really varied, depending on the child and a multitude of factors, including environment and individual variances.

Q: How do I know my baby is ready to walk?

A:

They’re probably a little more confident on their feet by this point. Pulling to stand with ease and balance unaided. They may be cruising around the furniture with ease and are ready to attempt their first few steps!

Q: Why do babies walk backward?

A:

This is another important developmental step (albeit backward). Typically they’ll learn to walk backward between 12 - 18 months [3] when they become more comfortable with taking steps and confident in their movements. They may also start to master moving side to side at the same time.

Q: Why is my baby not starting to walk yet?

A:

This can be due to many things. Some children may demonstrate unique characteristics or have specific needs that impact their walking milestones. We’ve all had friends with early walkers and it’s easy to wonder why our baby isn’t progressing in the same way. However, as the typical range for walking unaided can be anywhere between 10 - 18 months your child is probably OK! However, if by 18 months of age [2], they’re still not walking then please discuss this with your child’s healthcare team.

Q: Do babies stand unsupported before they walk?

A:

Typically, yes! It’s a key part of learning how to balance and hold their weight. Although do remember that some babies can skip steps of the walking process. They may just go for it.

Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.

5 Sources

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  1. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (2022). When Do Babies Start Walking? https://share.upmc.com/2022/08/when-do-babies-start-walking/

  2. Children's Minnesota (2017). Developmental milestones 12 to 18 months. https://www.childrensmn.org/references/pfs/rehabpublic/developmental-milestones-12-18-months.pdf

  3. Better Health Channel (2023). Children's feet and shoes. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/childrens-feet-and-shoes

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics (2022). Baby Walkers: A Dangerous Choice. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/Pages/Baby-Walkers-A-Dangerous-Choice.aspx