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New this month: New freedom to explore
The range of ages when it's considered normal to begin walking is broader with this gross motor skill than with any other. Almost all infants are able to lift their head, for instance, between 2 and 4 months. But a child who walks as early as 9 months or as late as 18 months is right on schedule.
Don't be surprised this week if your child's budding mobility – whether she's crawling, cruising, or walking – means she's suddenly reluctant to be held or carried. Once your baby has had a taste of freedom, it will be hard to hold her back. (Outings to the grocery store or shopping mall, and traveling, may be particularly trying for you right now!) Try not to get too upset when she falls, and resist the urge to rush to her aid unless she's really hurt. Falling is an inevitable part of learning to walk. Cruising and walking on uneven surfaces, even subtle ones such as wrinkled carpet or a sand-filled play area, will likely trip her up for a time, but it's great practice. Just be patient and give your child safe places to test her new independence.
Your baby will likely find it hilarious if you can play at having more trouble with walking than she does: Try developing a little comic routine in which you are walking along where she can see you and then – whoops! – you trip and almost fall. It builds children's confidence to see a big person having their difficulty in a theatrical fashion that lets them laugh about it. As long as it keeps getting a laugh, keep doing it, and your child will become a more and more confident walker.
If you haven't already, be sure to install a safety gate on any staircase with more than a step or two. A hardware-mounted gate is the best choice for stairs since a determined toddler can dislodge many pressure-mounted gates.
You don't need to rush out and buy shoes right away. Walking barefoot, on grass or sand, is actually good for a toddler because it helps build muscles in the lower legs while developing a sense of balance. Once your child is able and wants to walk in places where she might injure her feet, however, you'll need to put shoes on her. But you don't need to invest in a pair of shoes that costs as much as yours do. Since her shoes probably won't fit for very long, buying pricey pairs is a waste of money. Instead, look for canvas sneakers or soft leather shoes with flexible rubber soles. Never buy shoes that are a couple of sizes too big so your toddler can grow into them; she'll have trouble keeping her balance in them and she may trip. She should have about a half-inch of space between her big toe and the end of the shoe; if you can't feel her big toe, the shoe is too hard.
What you can do
If your toddler is already walking confidently, show her some other things she can do with her body, such as squatting without holding onto a piece of furniture or your leg. To encourage this skill, take her on a "treasure hunt": Before you head out for a walk in your neighborhood, loosely wrap a piece of masking tape around each of your child's wrists, sticky-side out. Every time she stops to examine something on the ground – which will probably be often – show her how to squat down and pick it up. Then stick the pebble, pinecone, leaf, or flower on the tape. Eventually she'll get the hang of it and try squatting and getting back up on her own.
If your child seems frustrated by her inability to get around on her own, you could offer her a stable push toy, such as a small wagon with a bar across the back, to help her cruise. One thing you should never do is put your child in a "walker" to encourage walking; experts say they're dangerous and they don't actually help a child learn to walk.
Other developments: Hand work
Your 13-month-old is also becoming more adept at using her hands. Many children this age enjoy "putting things in" and "taking them out" – for instance, placing objects such as blocks into larger containers and then dumping them out. You may also notice her making small towers out of two or three blocks and gleefully knocking them down.
At mealtime, watch for her to pick up small foods, like pieces of O-shaped cereal or one piece of macaroni, with just her thumb and index finger (this is called the pincer grasp) instead of raking up a handful at a time. She may even show some interest in using a spoon, though it will be the rare bite that actually makes it into her mouth.
What you can do
No matter how many toys litter the family room, 13-month-olds often prefer emptying kitchen cupboards so they can play with the pots and pans. If you're tired of picking up after your child, put childproof locks on all your cabinets except for one that you leave open for exploration. To keep things interesting, put a different selection of unbreakable objects, such as wooden spoons, pots and pans, plastic cups, etc., in the cabinet every few days. Your child will love investigating what's behind the door and in the process she'll practice her "grasp and release" skills and try to figure out the cause and effect of what she's doing.
See all our articles on toddler development.