When Do Toddlers Start Running?

If your toddler is on the run or you think he will be soon, here’s what you need to know about your dashing dynamo.

“The human body was made for moving,” says Shari Barkin, M.D., the division chief of general pediatrics at the Monroe Carrel Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville. And strong gross motor skills are important for one simple fact: Your toddler needs them to get around physically. Plus, being able to master gross motor skills also means that the brain, muscles, and nerves are functioning in sync. But for toddlers, psychologically mastering running is essential, too. “Being able to run brings a true sense of independence and joy,” Dr. Barkin says. “If you’ve ever noticed children running, they are often laughing — it brings a real sense of happiness.” Also, each mini-sprint helps strengthens bones and muscles, a huge boon to staying active and healthy later on.



Type of Development: Gross Motor Skills

 

 

When your toddler turns into Speedy Gonzalez, he’s flexing his muscles — literally. “Running falls under the developmental domain of gross motor,” says Sara Hamel, M.D., a behavioral and developmental pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. This type of development is a huge leap for your sure-footed squirt, as it requires mastering many motor skills, including walking and balance. “A lot goes into developing balance; in fact, we think of this as a motor milestone,” Dr. Barkin says.

When to Expect Running to Begin

 

 

Running usually occurs between 18 to 24 months, “but there is a huge range of normal,” Dr. Barkin says, and age ranges for meeting developmental milestones should serve merely as a general guideline. It’s important to remember that each child is different and will meet milestones at different points, when they’re ready. If you’re getting antsy for your child to hit the ground running, keep in mind that the trajectory of development often does not occur in a linear, entirely predictable way. So if your child took her sweet time walking, then don’t expect her to immediately become a rocking runner. Rest assured that her body hasn’t taken a break since she first started walking — her brain, nerves and muscles are still growing and becoming stronger so she can pick up new tricks such as running.

What Running Milestones Parents Can Expect

 

 

Before your little guy starts cruising at a marathon pace, you’ll notice him learning how to use his body in new ways that could signal he may start running soon. When his interest is piqued by going up and down stairs and he masters the ability to bounce, dance, and balance, his big muscle groups are getting stronger and he’s readying himself, Dr. Barkin says. Once your bold bub does begin picking up speed, expect his wobbly dashes to lead to a few falls. As you help him steady his wavering gait, giving him verbal instructions adds an extra cognitive component that needs time to develop along with his new motor skills. “Commands such as wait for me or stop there are quite complex, and it will take time before your child can respond to those types of instructions,” Dr. Barkin says. So don’t expect your little walker to hit the brakes immediately when you tell him to slow down, but it’s important to continue to practice giving these directives, especially now that he has the ability to scoot away from you faster.



What Red Flags to Watch Out For

 

If your child is still trotting at a snail’s pace, take a look at your living environment before you sound the alarms. Ask yourself: Is your child getting enough exercise to feel confident running? Does she feel safe, or are there lots of sharp corners she’s encountered while walking about that may make her nervous? And while you may feel high-strung and stressed about your youngster hitting developmental marks, she may be feeling the opposite: chill and relaxed. “Some children are quite happy to take their time,” Dr. Barkin says. “They don’t feel the need to run and are just really laid-back kids.”

Although there are physical attributes that may hinder running, such as being flat-footed or having feet that point inward, they are generally not a cause for concern, Dr. Hamel says. But if you notice any of the issues below, it’s a good idea to schedule a conversation with your pediatrician:

– one side of your child’s body moves better than or differently from the other

– your child frequently walks on his tippy toes

– your child walks repetitively back and forth in an aimless fashion

Your child’s running timeline

Here are the steps your child will take on the path to becoming an adept walker. Learning to walk involves much more than footwork!

We’ve also given typical ages, but keep in mind that this is just a rough guideline. Some kids walk as early as 8 months, others as late as 17 months. There’s a wide range of what’s considered normal. If you’re ever concerned about your child’s progress, check with her doctor.




Baby

Birth to 2 months
Walking reflex. If held in a standing position on a hard surface, your newborn will move his legs as if he’s walking. The reflex disappears around 6 weeks of age.
3 to 4 months

Does mini-pushups, which consist of lying on her tummy and raising her head and chest off the ground, using her arms for support. This builds upper body muscles crucial for walking.

5 months

Bounces up and down when held in a standing position. This movement helps your baby build leg strength.

Quick tip: Remember to childproof your home before your baby becomes mobile – which is right around the corner

6 to 8 months

Learns to sit. Sitting on his own develops your child’s neck strength, head control, balance, and coordination – all important skills for walking. Most babies also learn to crawlbetween the ages of 6 and 10 months, although some skip it altogether and move straight to walking.

 
8 months

Can support herself in a standing position while holding on to something. A couple of weeks later, your baby will becruising, or taking sliding steps while holding onto something for support.

9 to 10 months

Pulls himself up to a standing position with the aid of a sturdy object, such as a sofa or table leg. Figures out how to do deep knee bends in order to sit after standing.

11 months

Your baby can stand unsupported – for a few seconds – and may also be able to walk while holding hands.


Toddler

11 to 14 months

First steps! At 13 months, 3 out of 4 children are walking, though awkwardly. (By the way, those outstretched arms of her “Frankenstein” walk help keep her balanced.) Not long after that, your toddler learns to stoop down and stand back up again.

14 to 15 months

Your child may enjoy push-and-pull toys, and he may even be able to walk backward.

Red flag: If your child isn’t toddling by 14 or 15 months, bring it up with his doctor. This is still within the normal range of development, but now’s a good time to check for anything that may be delaying the milestone.

16 months

With help, your toddler can walk up and down the stairs.

18 months

Dances to music.

19 to 24 months

May increase her speed to a run. Enjoys carrying something in her hands while walking. Toward her second birthday, learns to jump from a low step to the floor.


Preschooler
25 to 30 months

Can motor up (but not down) the stairs alone. Comfortable with running. Is up for a game of tag or Ring-Around-the-Rosy.

31 to 36 months

Can now jump on the ground, feet together, and zip left and right. (Dribbling a ball will come later.)

4 years

Is learning to balance – and hop – on one foot. He probably prefers one foot over the other.


Big Kid

5 years

Has mastered earlier skills and can now do it all – walk, run, hop, skip, and jump.



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