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When and how it happens
Your child has been training for her first steps from the day she was born. Over the first year, she has developed her muscle strength and coordination, and has mastered one physical feat after another, from rolling over to sitting to crawling or scooting.
Once she nailed these skills, she was ready to move on to pulling herself up to a standing position and even cruising around a room while holding on to furniture for support. After that, it's been a matter of gaining the confidence and balance to set out on her own.
Learning to walk takes a lot of practice, which can go on for a long time. And mastering it is a major advance in your child's struggle to become more independent.
12 to 18 months
Most children take their first steps around their first birthday, but the normal range for reaching this milestone is very broad.
Don't worry if your child is one of the later ones – what's important is the progression of skills. If your child was a little late learning to roll over and crawl, chances are he'll need a few extra weeks or months for walking as well. As long as he keeps learning new things, you don't have to be too concerned.
Soon after your toddler takes his first steps, he'll learn to stoop down and then stand back up again. If your child's an early walker, he's probably enamored of toys that he can push or pull as he toddles.
Don't be tempted to buy a walker, though. Walkers can be dangerous because they make it easy for children to fall down steps or get into other dangerous situations. What's more, these devices can actually discourage children from learning to walk.
19 to 24 months
As your child becomes more sure on her feet, she'll start to feel more comfortable walking while holding something in her hands, such as a ball or a stuffed animal. She'll challenge herself by carrying heavier loads, so don't be surprised if you catch her trying to lift something too heavy for her, such as a briefcase. She'll also be thrilled to discover that she can run, not just walk, from one place to another.
25 to 30 months
By the time he's 2, your child has grown so confident of his ambling abilities that he now takes part in games like tag and ring-around-the-rosy. His steps are becoming more even, and he's getting the hang of the smooth heel-toe motion that adults use.
At this age your toddler probably also enjoys jumping and climbing. Now's a good time to decide what you want the rules to be about leaping all over the furniture.
31 to 36 months
There are still some actions – like balancing on a curb or standing on one foot – that require concentration and effort, but by the time your child's third birthday rolls around, walking is second nature to her.
She no longer needs to exert as much energy to walk, stand, run, or jump, and she's more nimble on her feet. She can stop and start a sprint at the drop of a hat, and zip left and right with little hesitation. Watch her experiment with the power of her limbs – while hopping on one foot, for example.
When to be concerned
Kids develop skills differently – some more quickly than others – but if you're concerned that your child may have a physical delay or if he missed a motor milestone (he's not walking by 18 months, for example), bring it up with his doctor.
There may be perfectly logical reasons for your child's taking his time. Maybe he's busy working on another developmental task, like talking. Or maybe he just likes to take his time whenever he learns a new skill.
Toddlers who are heavier or who were born prematurely often learn to walk a little later than others.
Most children walk on their toes occasionally when they're cruising, especially on bare floors. Some do it just for fun. But your child shouldn't toe-walk the majority of the time.
If you notice that your child walks on his toes all the time, he may have a physical problem (such as a short Achilles tendon) that's preventing him from putting his feet flat on the floor. It could also be a sign of a more serious motor disorder, such as mild cerebral palsy.
Your child's feet may turn in slightly when he walks. This is called intoeing. For almost all kids, in-toeing improves by itself over time. If it doesn't, consult your child's doctor.
Children also tend to be bowlegged during their first few years of life, but their legs should straighten out by around age 2.
By age 4, she'll be able to stand on one foot for a few seconds. By 5, she may be able to skip. Skipping looks like pure fun but is actually a complicated skill that requires a new level of coordination and balance.
As your child's physical skills develop, you may want to channel her energy into organized group activities, such as soccer or gymnastics.