Reasons for Late Walking in Toddlers

Children don’t all start walking at the same age. Some are a little earlier, some a little later. But when is later, too much later? Walking is a part of child development and an exciting stage. Late walking can happen for several reasons. Understanding this can help parents know what typical development is and what is not.

Key takeaways:
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    Children don’t all start walking at the same age.
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    Milestones are benchmarks to watch for children who might not be where they should be when they need to be.
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    Not all children are in the same place at the same time.
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    Some babies will walk as early as 9 months, others are closer to 18 months. Both are normal.
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    Children who show signs of late walking should be evaluated by a healthcare provider by 18 months.

What are “milestones?”

To understand why children do what they do, it is important to understand the milestones. Developmental milestones are activities most children can do by a certain age. Here’s what’s important. Not all children are in the same place at the same time.

Milestones are benchmarks to watch for children who might not be where they should be when they need to be. Having a child that hits milestones earlier than others does not mean they are advanced. Having a child that hits milestones after others does not mean they are delayed.

However, children who do not meet milestones when they should need to be watched to ensure they do. These children may also need some help getting there. Children should come close to milestones based on age.

Children go through multiple milestones from infancy to preschool age. Milestones include language, social, cognitive (learning and problem-solving), and movement. Milestones determine what a child should be able to do by a certain age as a part of normal growth.

When do babies walk?

Walking is an activity every baby is excited about. They can’t wait to be mobile. However, not every baby or toddler will walk at the same time. Some babies will walk as early as 9 months. Some toddlers may not walk until closer to 18 months. Both are normal.

In 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new developmental guidelines. According to the new guidelines, a toddler should walk unassisted by the end of 18 months. Children who don't show signs of walking or the ability to do so unassisted are considered to have a delay. Providers use milestones to track growth throughout the baby’s life and are mindful of signs early on.

Signs your toddler may walk soon

Once your little one becomes mobile, walking could be just around the bend. While many babies crawl before they walk, not all do. Some will crawl, some scoot, and some even roll from place to place. This is one of the reasons crawling was removed from the milestones by the CDC. Not all babies are doing it.

Though, certain things do come before walking, including:

  • Pulling up to stand
  • Cruising – Holding onto things like furniture to walk
  • Standing without support

What causes late walking in toddlers?

Several things can cause toddlers to walk late. At times, there may be physical, mental, or health-related causes.

Heredity: Some toddlers walk late simply because it was passed down from a parent who also walked late.

Personality: Some toddlers have no desire to walk. As funny as that sounds, some children have strong personality traits and just don’t want to do certain things as they grow. This can often be seen in children who have older siblings and are perfectly content letting others help them.

Premature: Babies who are born premature hit milestones slower than peers of the same age. This is where tracking age based on due date rather than birth date comes in.

Health: Health problems can cause delays in walking. Some are less obvious in infants until they’ve grown enough to start being mobile. When walking is delayed, signs start to appear. (More on health-related delays below).

Environment: A child who wasn’t exposed to a proper environment can have delayed walking. This can be from multiple causes too. Children who were sick infants and unable to play and explore may not develop the gross motor skills needed to walk.

Similarly, infants who are not provided the opportunity to play or have limited movement will have the same problem. This occurs in children left in walkers, carriers, strollers, highchairs, or similar restraints that limit movement for long periods.

Previous delays: Toddlers who had previous delays may have a delay when it's time to walk as well.

Developmental delays

Developmental delays happen when your child doesn’t meet one or more of the milestones. Developmental screening is very important to monitor for delays in speech, learning, movement, and social and emotional abilities. All of these areas affect a child’s growth and continued development.

During screenings, your healthcare provider will ask you questions, have you fill out a questionnaire, and often play with your child. This helps them assess how your child is developing as expected.

If a delay is suspected, your provider will refer you to a specialist for further evaluation. Early treatment is essential. Your child may require treatment from specialty therapists or other healthcare providers like physical therapist, occupational therapists, or early intervention services.

Health problems that can delay or prevent walking

Delayed walking can be from health problems that aren’t always visible. For instance, hypotonia causes poor muscle tone. This can be caused by several things like muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy. While these are often detected in infants, they can cause delayed walking in toddlers.

Other diseases can include:

  • Down’s syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease, Williams’ syndrome
  • Rickets
  • History of Failure to thrive
  • Head injury
  • Neurological infections

Unusual walking that’s not so unusual

Parents aren’t always sure if something is wrong but tend to be worried when something doesn’t look normal. These walking patterns often look unusual but can be normal in toddlers and go away on their own:

  • In-toeing (pigeon toe)
  • Out-toeing
  • Bowed legs
  • Knock knees
  • Flat feet
  • Toe walking

What to do if your toddler isn’t walking by 18 months

If your toddler isn’t walking by 18 months old, talk to your healthcare provider about a developmental evaluation. Your child will most likely be scheduled for a well child visit that should include this assessment. Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns.

You can also encourage walking if you see signs that your toddler is close to reaching the milestone.

  • Hold your baby’s hands and help them stand and take steps.
  • Steady push toys can promote walking once your child can cruise and stand with support.
  • Avoid using walkers: Walkers can create a fall risk. Walkers can also get stuck and have an increased risk of pulling things down, causing injury. These toys do not teach a child to stand or learn to balance.