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Ask Dr. Sears: Late Walker

Q. Should I be worried that my 15-month-old toddler's not walking yet? I am the mother of three girls and my older two started walking by 9 or 10 months. What can I do to help my 15-month-old?

There is a wide range of what's considered normal for when babies start to walk: anywhere from 9 to 16 months. Most babies begin crawling by 9 months of age, and around 50 percent of babies start walking by the time they're 1 year old. There are many factors that influence the age at which babies begin to crawl and walk. First is the temperament of the baby. Babies with easier, more laid-back temperaments tend to be later in motor-development skills, such as sitting up, crawling, and walking, but earlier in social skills, such as engaging behaviors like making eye-to-eye contact with people. Mellow babies are more content looking and playing rather than getting up and going. These babies approach changes in motor milestones more cautiously. Late crawlers and walkers tend to be less accident-prone.

Babies with more impulsive motor-driven temperaments, on the other hand, often race through motor milestones and crawl and walk before parents can get their cameras ready. There's absolutely no advantage to early motor developments, since these babies tend to be more accident-prone.

Concerning motor development, progression is more important than timing. If each month your infant has been getting more and more of her body off the ground -- such as going from crawling to standing to cruising (walking while holding onto furniture) -- this is a normal progression regardless of the timing.

Your baby's doctor will focus not only on her motor development, but on the development of all her other skills, such as hand, language, and social skills. In preparation for her next checkup, make a list of what all of her motor and language skills were at 12 months and how they have progressed over the past few months. This will be valuable information to help both you and your doctor decide whether you should worry, or if your baby is just on her own normal developmental timetable.

While you don't need to teach your baby to walk, you can become what we call a "facilitator," which means you don't do it for the child but you create conditions that help the child do it better for herself. You can reinforce your baby's walking skills by taking her hands and letting her walk between both parents. Then, while she's holding onto one parent with each hand, you gradually let go of one hand and then the other, while at the same time encouraging her verbally to walk. Be a cheerleader for her walking skills. Stand arm's length away from Baby, hold out your hands, and give an encouraging "Come to mama." Some normal late walkers will find that crawling is speedier than walking, and she may crawl toward you instead of walking and then climb up your leg. When she climbs into a standing position, hold her by one hand and gradually let go as you back away from her, encouraging her to walk toward you. Do this as a fun game, so that your baby learns that it is fun to walk.

Finally, don't join the neighborhood race to see whose baby walks the earliest. There's no correlation between how soon your baby walks and how smart she is. The age of babies' walking is as variable as their personalities.