Next Step Therapy Blog: Let’s Talk “Walkers”

NST-bTracy Cowles, CEO and owner of Next Step Therapy, submitted the following article on “Walkers”:

First of all, I have the word “Walkers” in quotes because that term is such a misnomer. (You know what I’m talking about when I say “walkers” – right? Those contraptions that have a seat and wheels with toys attached to a tray, and you stick children in them and they eventually learn to wheel themselves around in it?) Notice I did NOT say they learn to “walk” around in them. That is precisely what I want to discuss today.

WALKERS DO NOT TEACH CHILDREN TO WALK!

One of the biggest milestones that parents look forward to (dread?) is their child walking. In my job as an Early Intervention Physical Therapist, the comment that I hear most often when talking about goals with parents is, “I want my child to walk.” So it’s natural that parents want to do everything in their power to help their child learn to walk. Well, I’m here to tell you that “walkers” are not the way to go.

Let’s take a moment to picture a child “sitting” in a walker. Again, I have the word “sitting” in quotes because I want you to really think about that. Do you “sit” or are you in any way in a “sitting” position when you walk around? Then, why would we think putting a child in a sitting position will enable them to learn a walking skill?

I know your next thought, “but my child doesn’t sit in the seat – he stands when he is walking around in it.”

Again – please visualize with me – while they may be standing what else is happening? They will be pushing their belly against the front of the “walker” to propel it forward. Once again I ask, do you stick your belly forward and “push” against something when you walk? No, you do not. You walk standing straight with an upright posture. (Unless you have back problems, but that is another blog for another therapist who works with adults – ha-ha!)

Okay, we’ve established that “walkers” do not teach children to walk. You’re probably wondering – so how DO children learn to walk? I’m going to tell you – BY PLAYING ON THE FLOOR FROM THE TIME THEY ARE BROUGHT HOME FROM THE HOSPITAL. Before you think I’ve totally lost my mind let me explain….

One of the most important things that need to happen for all babies is FLOOR TIME. When a baby spends time on their belly on the floor, many things begin to happen. First, they begin to learn to lift their head. This progresses to lifting their head AND pushing up on their arms. That, in turn, leads to learning to roll to their back. Eventually they learn to “army” crawl forward but using their arms and pushing their feet/toes on the floor (usually to try and go after a favorite toy – like mom’s cell phone or the TV remote!). This leads to the child actually getting up on all 4’s and crawling which then leads to pulling up to stand at the couch.

Once they are up at the couch, they certainly want to go get that TV remote that is at the other end so they learn to take side steps – we call this cruising. Eventually they will get brave enough to take that step out from the couch to come to mom and as they get steadier they put more steps together until they are eventually walking! Why is this ‘progression’ necessary? BECAUSE AT EACH STEP THE CHILD’S BODY IS BUILDING MUSCLES WHILE ALSO LEARNING BALANCE AND RECRIPROCAL MOTION (exp. One leg/one arm then the next leg/next arm when crawling on all 4’s). The trunk, hip, and leg muscles all develop as they progress through each stage. And, when you think about it – how can a child be expected to learn to balance if they are “sitting” in a seat as they “walk”?

Other steps to helping a child walk include walking them with two hands held and then progressing to having them walk while you hold onto only one hand. I also do recommend and approve of the “push toys” that can be found at most retail stores. (I do not like the “ride on toys” that double as push toys because they are often unstable.)

I always recommend to my parents to look for these push toys at yard sales because they are usually used for such a short period of time that they are often in good shape when people try to get rid of them. The child can use the push toy as they work to gain confidence to try independent steps. Before you know it, the child will be brave enough to let go and try to take steps on their own. Then life as you know it will never be the same, BUT it will contain many new joys as you and your child are able to “walk” and explore your world together!

Happy Walking!!!

Tracy


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