The first question parents ask me is “when do you think my child will walk?”
The first question I get asked after a child is walking is “do you think my child is walking ok?” After having to ease a lot of my parents’ concerns regarding their child’s walking pattern, I decided to add a description of the progression of a child’s walking pattern from when they start walking until about 7 years old. I gathered all this information from a great textbook that I’m studying: Physical Therapy for Children, 3rd ed. by Campbell
These descriptions explain why kids look the way they do when they stand/walk at certain ages, and how it changes as they grow older.
- At this age, most infants cruise along furniture and stand holding onto something, and they tend to walk like they just got off a horse and aren’t quite strong enough to stand by themselves. So here are some of the reasons why!
- from birth to 6 months, body fat % in an infant, rises from 12%-25%, so they aren’t as strong as they need to be to walk by themselves.
- Studies show that fatter infants achieve milestones later than smaller infants (Adolph, 1997)– Now I can cite a study when I tell parents to please leave their children on the floor so they can start to try moving around on their own!
- Extremities grow fastest at this time
- Hips have more mobility with turning out, and their legs can separate more than ours.
- Knees are in slightly bow-legged position
- Ankles pronate because of how their heel bone is sitting at this age, so the look like they have no foot arches
- This is the time when infants begin to take their first steps! And this when I get asked the most “are they walking ok, why is he/she walking like that??”
- At this age, infants still have a higher percentage of fat, so still not very strong for proper walking
- Their center of balance isn’t quit as high as before because they’re growing taller/longer
- They still have weak hip/leg muscles
- They’re still lacking efficient balance reactions
- Since they aren’t that strong yet, and they don’t have great balance, new walkers tend to stiffen up their legs to try to stay as balanced as possible. Their legs become stiff because they are tightening the muscles on the front and back of their legs at the same time.
- Their arms are held high at their head to try to hold their balance more.
- Try to picture someone ice skating for the first time, their arms are usually flapping high and their legs are very stiff as they try to stay balanced as they skate, this is similar to how new walkers tend to look.
- They still walk similar to the 0-9 month age, as their joint mobility is pretty similar
- Legs don’t turn out as much now
- Foot still has flat arch because of heel position
- Knees aren’t quite as bow-legged but still bow slightly
- Toddlers now have improved balance than at 12 months
- Hip and leg strength has increased
- Since there’s better balance and hip strength, toddlers don’t tighten the muscles on the front and back of their legs as much, and they can now take larger steps and land with their heel first instead of landing with flat feet and shorter steps.
- Toddler’s joint angles are closer to a mature joint angle
- Balance continues to improve
- Toddlers walk with consistent heel strike and no flat foot
- walking more similar to a mature walking pattern
- no longer bow-legged
- no longer has flat arch and heel is in neutral position
Most parents are concerned if their child is walking bowlegged or with their toes turned in. And most physicians usually have parents wait until the child is 6-8 years old before deciding on a course of action since the bow-leggedness usually resolves. But if you feel your child’s legs are turning too far in or too far out (toes in or toes out), or too bow-legged, then it may be at least worth getting a consultation.