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Looking down at a then year-old Ya'ir, an older family friend made the observation that he is before two of the most amazing developmental changes he will ever undergo: speech and walking. As he approaches age three next week, the chatterbox climber has definitely demonstrated mastery of both.
In the past month the still non-verbal twins have both joined their exuberant brother in his nightly laps around our apartment. Though the 15-month-olds both took their first unsupported steps in early November, it took them a good month to decide perambulation is preferable to crawling.
I asked Yael Vaknin, a physical therapist friend who specializes in child development from birth to age nine at Clalit in Reut, why there was such a delay. The feisty mother of two took me step by step through common mistakes parents make with their pre-walkers and gave other useful tips in buying that first pair of shoes.
Developmentally, by eight-ten months, a baby should generally stand and sit, and definitely be crawling. Before taking his first unaided steps, he should also be standing unsupported. Walking should naturally evolve by 18 months.
But that's according to the textbook. "Just as there are kids who stand before crawling or walk before sitting, there's a wide variety of developmental progressions. Not every child goes sequentially according to 'the book' 1,2,3."
It is very tempting to take a child who has demonstrated his ability to creep along furniture by the hand and "walk" him. But, says Vaknin, this is problematic for two reason: it gives him a false sense of security and changes his center of gravity. Walkers in which the child sits and is supported, or ones in which he must raise his hands to push the device are likewise not recommended.
Instead, Vaknin suggests allowing him to push chairs on a slick floor (if tolerant neighbors allow), using a push walker that doesn't change his center of gravity, or holding on to a parent's pant-leg.
"A child has to be in control. He has to be the navigator," she says.
"Listen," she says, "a normal child won't necessarily be hurt by this in the long run. It doesn't help him to walk and may delay it by a month or so. But with a child who has a slight, not severe problem - a little weaker, or too flexible - it could really slow down the process."
She emphasizes the importance of allowing a child to walk barefoot, especially at the creeping stage and when he is just learning to walk alone. She says that small muscles are most aptly built when bare soles feel the terrain. Even in winter, she recommends giving the child at least a portion of the day to walk around barefoot - on a non-slip rug or a heated floor.
For parents who are loath to allow their wee ones to walk barefoot in the cold of winter, socks studded with rubber are the best solution.
"They are the most natural alternative to barefeet until the child is really walking." Loose-fitting slippers are an obstacle, she says. Better to put him in shoes.
After a child can take 10 steps without falling, parents should purchase tzad rishon ("first step") shoes, which can be found in most Israeli children's shoe lines. They are designed to grasp and support the previously unshod foot properly, and usually offer the preferable option of laces.
However, cautions Vaknin, make sure to measure both feet and check that there aren't any signs of abrasion or pressure. Socks must fit the child's foot exactly and should be wrinkle-free when the foot is inserted.
Often parents try to cajole their child into walking. The cute "Come to Daddy" of an eager father who has placed his baby in the center of a room and waits several steps away with outstretched arms could be met with distress by the pre-walker.
"Don't pressure a child into walking," says Vaknin. Much like teething, which is genetically programmed, "a healthy child will walk in his own time."
The writer is a mother of three-in-diapers.