One of the most common requests I receive is how to encourage walking.
Each child achieves these skills at their own time, in their own way.
Though we learn motor development from textbooks putting forward neurodevelopment theory to explain skill acquisition and motor patterning. The actual progression of gross motor skills takes on distinct characteristics when we look at each child as a unique creation.
There are differences in personality, some children are always seeking, searching for new sensory experiences, investigating each new noise, new scent, new image.
Other children are happy to be more sedentary, allowing the objects and people in their life to come to them, engage with them on their level. Sometimes we, as parents and caregivers, need to encourage a bit more exploration to facilitate not only motor development, but language acquisition as well.
And now for some helpful tips to encourage independent walking, modeled by my son Abe.
Tip#1: Encourage barefoot exploration as much as possible.
Allowing the child to experience different tactile surfaces along the sole of their feet allows for use of the intrinsic muscles, which lead to eventual development of arch support.
Barefoot standing and navigation also promotes more natural weight shifting and weight bearing which helps child build both static and dynamic balance necessary for independent walking. So take off your shoes and socks and join in the barefoot walking on grass, sand, padded mats, solid floors…the possibilities are endless!
Tip#2: Move everything from the floor to different surfaces around the playspace.
Choose different heights, different placements throughout the day, determine the objects that are the most motivating for your child and make those objects the more challenging to reach for.
As you can see Abe has been really motivated by the shape sorter, in particular the star shape so that is placed at the most elevated level these days!
To reach certain objects Abe gets up on his toes, then squats down low to reach others. As he brings certain items to me, either a book to read together or the colorful coins to help him put in his piggy bank, he will be encouraged to let go of his upper body support, rotate his body, stand independently, and ideally take a short step or two.
Tip#3: Encourage reaching overhead and down below for objects, bubbles, balloons, putting ball in hoop.
This will promote less reliance on upper body external support as the child reaches away from base of support, activating balance reactions, trunk strength and weight bearing through stable lower extremities.
Tip#4: Encourage bi-manual work.
Again we are taking the focus away from that external support your child has been relying on. Offer an object, which requires your child to use both hands to manipulate and carry along.
Promoting standing and walking while child is holding object with bi-manual grip using both hands will discourage reaching for support and encourage more activation of trunk and lower extremity muscles.
O-Ball offers some great options, two musical toys (one for each hand!), a large stuffed animal, anything motivating that requires both hands to be engaged and active so that the child’s trunk and lower body are called upon to maintain balance and stable support.
As you can see in the above photo, Abe is holding one egg shaker in his right hand, reaches across midline to grab the other musical toy with his left hand and with both hands occupied, he stands independently!
Tip#5: Encourage transitions.
Many of our little ones are pulling to stand using upper body more than lower body to attain this position. We can encourage other means to rise to standing, for instance:
Click to see video of Abe’s sit to stand.
Tip#6: Introduce idea of “dynamic support”.
Pushing weighted shopping cart, toy car, swing in park, large therapy ball all help to encourage weight bearing and moving through space with “dynamic support”.
Promoting weight bearing through legs, weight shifting, and less reliance on stable support as the child has to begin to anticipate the movement and adjust their body accordingly.
Tip #7: Encourage climbing ramps, stairs, or slide to promote trunk and lower body dissociation and strengthening.
Tip #8: Change up the environment.
Bring child to different settings: outdoor playground, indoor gym, friend or family’s home. Different settings bring different experiences, new challenges and new incentives to interact physically with surroundings!
A great way to generalize skills and prevent any degree of complacency.
Tip#9: Enjoy every moment.
Despite being sleep deprived, hungry, and stressed….try to enjoy these moments with your little one. Each skill acquired no matter how big or small is a great accomplishment that should be relished and applauded for you and your child!
Tip #10: Ask for help.
If all else fails, ask for help. As Pediatric physiotherapists we are able to offer other suggestions, activity ideas, and help to assess any underlying reasons for the developmental concerns you may have. No judgments, just helpful suggestions await if you reach out to the right professional!
For more information you can email Dr Rebecca Talmud, Pediatric Physical Therapist and owner of Dinosaur Physical Therapy directly at [email protected]
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