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Walkthisway...

What motivates your little one to take those first tentative steps? Dr Richard Woolfson explains what's going on inside her growing, enquiring mind

Right from birth, your baby's thinking to herself, 'I want to get up and at 'em,' so you could say her motivation to walk is inborn. In fact, she has a stepping reflex right from birth. A doctor will usually check this by holding your newborn under her arms and letting her legs dangle. She'll instinctively move her legs and feet as though she's stepping forward, especially if her feet are allowed to touch a surface.

This early motivation to take her first independent step disappears within a few months, however. When she's 3 or 4 months old, hold her upright under her arms, just as the doctor did at her birth. This time her legs will hang limp, and she'll make no attempt to walk. For the moment, she's content to explore just using her senses.

Upright is fun

Preparation for her first step, both physically and psychologically, builds during the rest of her first year. Sitting and crawling helps your baby's back and legs grow stronger. And by around 6 months, she can usually stand upright with support.

That advance in her movement skills boosts her confidence. She proudly tells herself, 'I'm standing on my own two feet and the world looks pretty interesting from up here.' Of course, your little one falls if she tries to move out of that fixed position, yet she's achieved the first stage in walking - bearing weight on her legs. From then on, it's only a matter of time before she takes her first step.

The way that your little one progresses from supported standing

'It's hard to predict exactly when she'll walk on her own'

to independent walking depends on many factors, such as your encouragement, her physical development and her attitude, so it's hard to predict exactly when she'll walk on her own.

What usually happens is that she goes from supported standing to 'cruising'. That is, she pulls herself up from sitting to standing (perhaps against the side of a sofa) and then side-steps her way around the room, from one piece of furniture to the next, using her hands to support herself. She looks around, plans ahead and judges spaces between supporting structures. The huge grin on her face tells you she's thinking, 'I'm very pleased with myself.'

Your little one will probably take her first independent walking step, without any support, between the ages of 12 and 15 months. Some children walk earlier than that; others later. In fact, a large number don't walk until they're 18 months, and yet go on to develop normally. It's a combination of physical maturity, confidence and opportunity that makes her feel ready to try walking on her own.

Initially, she'll walk unsteadily, and is easily unbalanced. That's why children in that phase of development are called 'toddlers' - their legs are spaced well apart for balance and they literally toddle from side to side as they move.

Her feeling of delight is unmistakeable, though. The sparkling look on her face tells you she can't wait to use her new walking ability to have lots of new adventures.

Best foot forward: 'Watch out, world, here I come!

Best foot forward: 'Watch out, world, here I come!

1 Don't force him to walk Your baby will do it when he's ready - and not before. You'll only demotivate him if you push him to take his first step.

2 Give lots of encouragement

When you see him trying to get up on his feet and take his own weight, help him and give lots of praise.

3 Use incentives

Motivate him by putting an object just out of his reach. He'll soon learn he has to move to get hold of it.

4 Be ready to cushion his fall Walking is new and scary, and he may be deterred from further attempts if he tumbles at first. Try to be there to catch him. 5 Reassure her The pain and indignity of toppling while trying to walk dents his sense of security. Reassure him that he's fine and that he should try again. PP

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