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Toddlers toddle but why isn’t mine?

Mom and dad holding on to toddler walking in a park
Toddlers can begin walking as early as 9 months or as late as 17 to 18 months.

Seems like one minute your child is born, the next minute he’s crawling, walking and running all over the place.

But what if your toddler is not walking when you think he should be?

“The normal age range for toddlers to walk is as early as nine months and as late as 17 to 18 months,” said Dr. Keith Pulvermacher, a Marshfield Clinic pediatrician, “and we see the average age is 12 to 14 months.”

Factors causing delayed toddler walking

If your toddler was a premature infant, that can affect when he walks because it changes development timelines. The big factor, however, is muscle strength or muscle tone. Low muscle tone can be diagnosed when the child is less active, slow to reach major milestones or sit, stand and walk and is not a fan of tummy time. Low tone is often seen in a child with Down syndrome. A child can also have high muscle tone, commonly seen in children with cerebral palsy.

Environmental factors also can delay walking.

What if my toddler’s gait is off?

Gait is the way a person walks. If toddlers have gait problems, they would become noticeable after the 17- to 18-month mark when their walking pattern is too stiff.

“Problems with gait usually come after the toddler is walking,” Pulvermacher said. “If the child’s gait is off, we start looking at possible balance and/or neurological problems.”

When to see your child’s doctor

Pulvermacher says if your toddler is not independently walking by 17-18 months you should talk to your doctor. Your doctor will recognize whether your child has low muscle tone and check other development skills like sitting up and crawling.

“Those activities lead up to steps,” Pulvermacher said. “It’s unusual to have normal development then not see a toddler walking.”

Doctors will usually refer the toddler to a physical therapist or other related services. To help at home, families can play with children at different levels, like putting a toy at a level higher than they’re used to or having the child walk from adult to adult.

For more help, doctors recommend parents use jumpers, not walkers. Walkers can give kids too much mobility too soon.

When it comes to wearing shoes, going barefoot encourages better balance but a child should wear shoes on cold or hot surfaces.

However, Pulvermacher says gross motor and walking delays are not uncommon.

“They have to learn to take little steps, hold their neck up, crawl and sit up on their own,” he said. “We do developmental screenings if there might be a concern but walking takes time to learn.”

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