elevating child care

9 Reasons Not To Walk Babies

I can understand the urge to walk babies. After all, they seem to like it so much. When we help our babies walk, they are gleefully entertained — enjoying us enjoying them — while we’re getting a preview of one of life’s major milestones. Sometimes we’re compelled to walk our babies because we think they need help developing their motor skills and believe it our duty to teach them. We worry that our children will fall behind if we don’t give them a hand or two (literally).

So, why rain on this innocent parade and suggest not walking babies?

1.  Body wisdom

“Only a baby knows just the way his joints should align,” notes Carol Pinto, a longtime RIE Associate, Feldenkrais practitioner and friend. In other words, when it comes to motor development, babies are self-learners — they really do know best. By holding a baby’s hands to mobilize him, position and reposition his body, we hinder his natural ability to find balance, sense spatial relations, and judge what he can and cannot do.  Better to trust our babies to walk when they are ready, and by doing so encourage mental and physical awareness.

2.  Safety

Awareness and safety go hand-in-hand, and walking babies makes them less aware — gives them a false sense of balance and of their abilities — which can be dangerous.  In Don’t Stand Me Up I describe an unfortunate incident at our home involving my unwitting husband and a friend’s toddler who was accustomed to being walked down steps.) But babies who are given freedom to move and develop in their own way gain a self-knowledge that keeps them safer. Their inner sense of balance and judgment intact, movements are carefully calculated, and they tend to make fewer reckless moves. In a 1971 study on natural gross motor development at the Pikler Institute (as reported in The RIE Manual) researchers described the children’s movements as “well-coordinated, economical and cautious”. They also noted that “the children, without exception, attained age-appropriate skills.”

3.  Habits, dependencies

Walk babies, and they’ll probably want to do it again and again. Not only does this create an unhealthy dependence on an adult for body balancing, it makes a habit of an activity that the baby will likely be much more interested in continuing (and doing far more often) than we are. Babies are extremely fond of repetition. And, personally, I’m not fond of having more situations with babies where I have to say, “No”. Babies who are not walked or otherwise positioned never ask to be.

4.  Parent’s backache

Enough said.

5.  Thwarts independent play

The walking habit creates an unnecessary and unproductive dependency on the adult for entertainment. Engaging the parent to repeat the activity becomes a distraction when the child could be happily working on developing motor skills his way, or engaged in other more educational, creative and exploratory self-generated activities.

6.  Restrictive

Although we probably believe that our well-intentioned manipulation of a baby is helping him learn to move freely, we are actually restricting him (just as we do when propping him to sit and holding him to stand). Babies need lots of practice moving freely to attain new skills. It is best to encourage that freedom and trust them to be inner-directed. Only babies know what they are ready to do and what they’re working on.

7.  Loss of transitional movements

Researchers at the Pikler Institute also noted in their observation of the 722 children raised in this model orphanage (the only place that I’m aware of where natural gross motor development has been officially studied) that the children maintained a “stable high activity level during the whole period of learning new motor skills and changed their postures on average of at least once per minute. This indicates that a child restricted from moving freely is deprived of the long hours of exercising in transitional postures before mastering the next developmental skill.” (From The RIE Manual.)

These wonderful transitional postures are one of the striking differences I’ve seen over the years between babies who are allowed to develop without interference and those who aren’t.

There is an agile 7 month old boy in my new class who spends the majority of the class in perfect straddle splits when he isn’t sitting (a recent development) or scooting across the floor. The parents (neither of whom are dancers, gymnasts, or even circus performers) and I were marveling at him just last week, wondering if, and for how long he will maintain this astonishing flexibility.

Transitional postures are building blocks, each one having a distinct and valuable developmental purpose for our child. When we, however subtly, nudge our child to sit or walk, we believe we are helping, but the child ends up losing out on experiencing a healthier developmental process which includes the wide array of naturally strength-building postures.

8.  Trust + Mastery = Self-Confidence

Basic trust in our baby means allowing him to drive his development. When a baby feels our trust and is allowed to experience his appropriate self-chosen struggles and then eventually to own his independent accomplishments (like walking), self-confidence is nurtured. Instead of, “Now I can finally do it without daddy’s hands holding me.” It’s “Wow, look what I can do!”

9.  I’m enough

When we’re dating, everyone wants to know when we’ll be married. Then we get married and it’s, “When are you having a baby?” Then, “Is the baby smiling? Sitting? Walking? Talking? When are you having baby number 2?” Why is it so hard for us to appreciate what’s going on right now?

Babies need to know that they are appreciated, enjoyed and loved for what they are able to do at this moment.  Generally, they never need our help for the basics like sitting, standing and walking. Our interference only confuses the process, and in many ways corrupts it. They really don’t need our help, as much as we’re driven to give it. As Magda Gerber writes in Dear Parent – Caring For Infants With Respect, “If infants are ready to do something, they will do it. In fact, when they are ready, they have to do it.”

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95 Responses to “9 Reasons Not To Walk Babies”

  1. avatar Sam says:

    This by far the funniest thing I’ve read. Unless parents are walking babies their every waking moment, which we’ll all agree no one has time to do, in all my years this activity is usually just a little bit of fun for adult and child alike. With all the baby yoga, baby activity toys and baby every kind of development apparatus out there where we force them into some sort of activity and don’t let them develop at their own pace, shouldn’t those be under attack instead?

    • avatar Emily N says:

      AT .. they don’t need to be attacked. If people follow the basics of letting the baby develop at her/his own pace, as this article suggests… make the connection … then the things you listed wouldn’t be used. Simple.

  2. avatar Amanda says:

    The more I read and learn about RIE the more it makes sense to me. Unfortunately I didn’t discover it until my son was over a year old. We have been those parents who spent hours last summer walking him up and down the driveway until he “finally” began walking on his own at 11 months.
    I’d love love love to see you post an article about how to transition to RIE strategies/philosophies after you didn’t start out that way! How to change behaviors like whining and poor independent play skills that have been pretty well instilled by what I’m now considering poor parenting choices at the beginning.
    If you can’t tell yet, my 20 month old is currently doing a lot of whining and neediness and not letting me cook dinner! :)
    Love your articles Janet!

  3. avatar Jana says:

    This is a really good article and I’m sad that a lot of people don’t understand that these are facts.
    It doesn’t mean that you have to do it that way but accepting it would be a great start.
    I’m a physiotherapist for babies and children and a huge fan of Emmi Pikler.
    So I would sign that any day.
    Parents just don’t see what they are doing to the children when forcing them to turn/sit/walk to early. But I do. When I have to therapy their 12/13 year olds with back pain. With head aches. Caused (also) from to early sitting (f.e.)
    I don’t say that this is the case with every child that is forced to walk but you can definitely see a majority.
    I think patents should accept that each and every baby has its own unique way of growing up.
    Great article! Thank you! :)

  4. avatar mst says:

    It seems there could be a happy medium on this one. There are some very good points here. I always naturally allowed our son to cruise along (safe) furniture/surfaces, which he loved. Of course, there are times when you are somewhere where there are no cruising surfaces at all – our big backyard, a big church/building lobby, etc. Our son also spent his first 10 1/2 months in an orphanage/group care and didn’t walk until he was 15 mos. old (not that late, I know, but late compare to some). He found it frustrating for him to not be able to stand and observe his world as loved to do, simply because there was no convenient cursing surface. I found that if I offered him just two fingers and completely followed his lead then I could be his cruising “surface” in those moments. It was also yet another way to foster attachment, which is essential for kiddos from orphanage backgrounds. SO, I didn’t “walk him” all that often, but the times I did I feel were just fine and worked well for us both. Point being, I think this can be done in a respectful and advantageous way and a blanket statement against it doesn’t need to be made (while education on the points in this post is certainly great and necessary). (By the way, now that he is 4 1/2 my son is a wonderfully independent little guy whose agility and balance boggle my mind. He learned to ride his two wheeler just after he turned 4 and in only 15 minutes!! So, think he’s doing okay, haha.) As with most things, being educated, trusting your mom gut, and respecting your child usually leads to a great experience and outcome for everyone.

    • avatar mst says:

      Sorry about the typos :) – “cruising surfaces”, etc. Typing too fast :)!

  5. avatar Scott says:

    awesome info. how i wish i knew these months ago. my boy has now started walking. thanks.

  6. avatar Mary says:

    I have RIE 1 training and I tried so hard to follow this, but please in the future include a little bit about babies who develop along traditional milestones, even 1 sentence would be nice. My toddler has hip problems and needs chiropractic care to walk- we had to guide her along, hold her hand, put her in a walker, etc. we needed to teach her to walk. If we had left her on her own, she would not have learned and would have needed more invasive intervention so that her left leg wouldn’t be in pain everytime she tried to put weight on it. Sometimes, the absolute ness of these articles can be misleading.

  7. avatar Mary says:

    My toddler began walking just now at 18 months but we still need to help her since the muscles on her left side are not as strong as her right.

  8. avatar Concerned says:

    This article pretends to offer knowledge about about a very varied part of a child’s evolution. It seeks to offer a solution to problems that do not exist and is really preying upon parents who lack confidence and experience. The set up is all ways a presumption of concern where none exist. Many parents who are learning their way a looking for advice…I personally wouldn’t look here. Trust your heart and speak to mums, dads, grandparents. Raising a child is not a complex issue, we have been doing for millennia and trust your own instincts and common sense

    • avatar lynsey says:

      It probably looks like these “problems” don’t exist because they’re just so subtle. That’s why it takes a long time to really understand kids, and even these educated child care professionals make mistakes and have hard times, exactly because it IS a complex thing teaching and raising a child.
      One thing I learned by my early childhood education and child care experience combined is that you cannot rely on instincts alone. This website is the only one where I feel I can get sound advice even after the education I’ve had.

  9. avatar Bernadette says:

    This is absolutely ridiculous. My daughter has been trying to stand in my lap since 6 weeks old, was sitting on her own at 4 months, and from 6-7 months was crawling, pulling herself up onto furniture at taking small steps while holding into items and also in the same month she said her first word. You know your own children and it is up to you to encourage their development. Sometimes recognizing their early milestone development and encouraging it is best. Don’t listen to anyone tell you how to raise your child. Also don’t force your child to do activities they just can’t or won’t do. It is a balance and no one way is right or wrong for anyone.

    • avatar Mac Sherbert says:

      Bernadette…I like your points. My youngest walked at 8 months and not because I forced her too. I didn’t want her to walk early…yikes! My other one walked at 10 months I knew what I was in for. She did absolutely everything early. Once she could pull-up she started demanding that I walk her around when we were at places that didn’t have furniture to cruise on.

      Perhaps, this is meant more for those parents that try to walk a baby around before the baby shows in any interest in it all?? And isn’t developmentally ready for it?

  10. avatar Bernadette says:

    Oh and I should also note that I was able to stay home her first 4 months and even now spend 80% of our time together on the floor on her level playing with her and practicing milestones when she seemed to have an interest in something new. At 4 months I started teaching her baby sign language and at 6 months she could drink from an open cup. She is extremely independent player and always been a wonderful sleeper and eater. Every child is different. Love your kid, play with them, encourage them when they show an interest, and don’t force anything and your baby will develop just fine.

  11. avatar Nick says:

    Is this for real? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

  12. avatar Kate says:

    I think this is a natural response for uneducated parents who have the best intentions to help their children. I’m in a bit of a pickle myself, overly consciencous of responding to my baby’s cues, I reacted to nearly every little winge which has made my baby a little too dependant on me. He loved standing, which has now turned into a terrible habit of standing and being walked at 11 months and never crawling… (Was this my fault, I will never know if he would have crawled without my interference, the guilt riddles me). To break bad habits is so hard…. Do I stop walking him altogether now? Especially as he can’t crawl his frustration is high. I do leave him on his own quite a bit next to furniture and sometimes he will pull himself up but he is always whining for me and wanting to be walked. Should I just go cold turkey? Help please not judgment!

  13. avatar Amber says:

    It’s so sad. Why are people so offended? I am always interested in learning newer and better ways to parent. It’s not like there’s an act of congress being passed forcing people to follow these recommendations. Why can’t people just read them, follow the ones that makes sense for their parenting style, ignore the ones that don’t, and stop belittling people who WANT to follow these recommendations? Is that really too much to ask? Why is everything such a fight?

  14. avatar David says:

    So I’ll assume your opposed to training wheels on bikes also.

    • avatar janet says:

      Not as opposed, but I do believe they are unnecessary, unless we are in a hurry to get our child on a bike.

  15. avatar Rebekah says:

    What about in cases where the baby initiates? My daughter has always grabbed my hands and started stepping on her own, without my direction or interference? I’m curious to hear what you think about that. I feel I would have been ignoring her lead, had I not allowed for assisted walking.

    Thanks for all of your wonderful articles!

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