PT Corner: Should You ‘Walk’ Babies?

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by Stacy Menz, DPT, DPT, Board Certified Pediatric Clinical Specialist

walk babies

We have had some families bring this article, 9 Reasons Not to Walk Babies, to our attention.  It was generally a response to some of the things we were working on in therapy with their child, and confusion because this article to them seemed to be saying the exact opposite of what we are asking them to do.  I have to admit when I first read it I thought the author was completely wrong.  Then I took a step back and read it again.  What I realized was that the first time I read it, I was reading it with the bias of how it related to the specific child we were working with.  In actuality, what the author is promoting is independent exploration and development of the child.

I am a big proponent of allowing children the chance to independently explore and facilitate their own motor development as their bodies are ready.  Unfortunately, not all children are able to do this on their own and they need assistance with how to explore and move, and sometimes they help practicing and repeating skills, such as walking, so that they can master them.

Going back to the families that have asked about this article, the challenge was that due to busy lifestyles, other children, and ease of getting around, many of them were using carrying devices like carriers and strollers, or physically carrying or holding their child an overabundance of the time and not providing them the opportunity to explore their environment, thereby limiting their ability to figure out how their body works, trial certain movements, register the feedback, make adjustments and gradually refine their movement until they were masters of the skill.  This is the ideal way kids learn movement, opportunities to practice with trial and error.  By carrying their child everywhere, they were in fact putting the same constraints on their child as this article was attempting to steer them away from.  They weren’t allowing their child to develop at his own rate.

Its interesting that I have read two other posts that talk about the overuse of equipment in society today and how it limits children in this same way.  One was a guest post on our site about avoiding the ‘container shuffle‘, and the other was by Pink Oatmeal on baby items you don’t need.  This topic is also related to the Bumbo Chair.  Again its a convenience that can have specific benefits, but when its used to teach a child to sit before they are physiologically ready, it is not being used to the child’s benefit.  In that same way, when ‘walking’ your child is being used to teach your child to walk before they have even mastered standing, then it may be that they aren’t ready for it.

The best way you can support your child’s motor development is to give them plenty of floor time with the opportunity to explore.  Use yourself or engaging toys to motivate them to move.  If they are trying to move and getting frustrated its okay to give them a little boost, just make sure you are not always doing it for them, their is benefit to not succeeding every time, that’s how their bodies make refinements and adjustments so that they can become more efficient with their movements.

On a slightly different note, but on the same topic, for children who are already experiencing delays for one reason or another, and are engaged in therapies, the therapist may give you things to work on that are meant to support your child’s development because at that time, they are behind and they need that extra push.  If walking is one of them, its probably because your child needs your help in creating opportunities to practice the skill and learn from those trials, and they are not creating those opportunities for themselves.

Featured Guest Columnist: Stacy Menz, DPT, Board Certified Pediatric Clinical Specialist

Stacy, Starfish Therapies’ founder, is a pediatric physical therapist with both a Masters and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Boston University and is a board certified pediatric clinical specialist. She stumbled into this field when she realized she would get to play with kids all day long! In reality, she loves making a difference in the lives of kids and their families. In addition to doing rehabilitative work with kids, she also promotes overall wellness and prevention of developmental delays through education. Stacy is actively involved in her professional organizations and is on the editorial board of Impact, the publication of the Private Practice Section of the APTA, and serves on the education committee of the Pediatric Special Interest Group for the California Physical Therapy Association. Stacy and her colleagues are also actively involved in research and have an article submitted for publication.

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