Why I Won’t Teach My Toddler to Walk

Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap  —  September 25, 2013 — 20 Comments

Disclaimer: this is not meant as a criticism of anyone else’s parenting, past or present, including and especially the folks who raised us. My background in both education and social work have informed my opinions on certain aspects of child-rearing, but it’s just what I believe in and what works for our family. This is meant to explain my choices, no more, no less.

Jack is almost fifteen months and still has yet to take his first unassisted steps. He can pull up and walk while holding onto the furniture, but when he really wants to get somewhere he drops to his hands and knees and crawls.

He’s been slow to hit all of his milestones–rolling over, sitting up, and crawling. He did all of them in his own time and I refused to rush him. When he was ten months and still not crawling well meaning folks insisted that I try to teach him how to get around. I didn’t know how to explain my opposition eloquently so I joked about not wanting him to be mobile because it would be more work for me. But it was more than just laziness–it was a parenting decision that I wasn’t able to articulate clearly in the middle of a party or the grocery store checkout or whatever. And now that the months are passing by and everyone wants to know whether he’s walking the topic has been reawakened.

do not do for your children (570x570)

image from here

I believe it’s important for Jack to be allowed to figure things out on his own. It’s a chance to let him learn to take on challenges and self-direct his own learning. These are part of a broader group of skills called executive functioning, something researchers now know is critical to success from elementary school well into adulthood. I won’t be spending a lot of time teaching him shapes, colors, letters, and numbers, either. That’s what kindergarten is for. The preschool years are for learning to focus, use your imagination, think critically, engage in learning, and develop empathy and self-control. None of these skills are anywhere near fully developed by school age, but executive functioning skills at school entry are more predictive of academic (and life!) success than any other measure–including IQ (see links below for more info on this).

do not handicap your children (570x426)

image from here

I’m under no illusions that this one decision to let my kid learn to walk on his own will make or break his ability to self-regulate come kindergarten, but it’s part of a broader approach to parenting that I feel strongly about. Honestly, I’m ready for him to walk. I can’t imagine it’ll be much harder to keep up with him than it already is and it’s getting awfully tiring having to carry him around everywhere. But it’s not about me. Learning to walk may very well be the most monumental accomplishment of these early years and I want him to do it on his own. We’ve got three months left before his crawling is cause for concern and I feel confident that he’ll take his first steps before then. And if he doesn’t we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Again, please don’t take offense if you’ve chosen differently with your own kids. This is not at all intended to tell other people what they should or should not do. I do a much better job of expressing myself through writing than when speaking and this is the best way I know how to explain to the world at large that I’m not dooming my son to crawl forever because I’m lazy. Thank you for reading and for always being so supportive and wonderful in general. I love y’all!

Here are some excellent articles about executive functioning if you’re interested in learning more:

Executive Function Skills Predict Children’s Success in Life and in School

Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control?

Relations between Preschool Attention Span-Persistence and Age 25 Educational Outcomes

From External Regulation to Self-Regulation: Early Parenting Precursors of Young Children’s Executive Functioning

Executive Functioning as a Predictor of Children’s Mathematics Ability: Inhibition, Switching, and Working Memory

From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development

Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap

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20 responses to Why I Won’t Teach My Toddler to Walk

  1. Thanks for posting this! I just started following your blog a few weeks ago and I really love it :) I feel like I am always doing my best to be a good mother… until someone else has an opinion! Then you always feel like you have to explain yourself. I hate that! Our son is 16 months and was slow for many things too. But he is FINE! Happy & Healthy ~ trust your own advice to let him learn on his own. And try not to jump down others’ throats every time they feel the need to comment (that’s my own advice to myself!) Mommy knows best :) Best of luck, it’s a fun time & it gets better every day!

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap September 26, 2013 at 9:49 am

      You’re so right! There were a few weeks this winter when I thought if one more person asked why my 7 month old wasn’t wearing a hat when it was 60 degrees out I was going to lose my shit. I wanted to say, “where’s YOUR hat?”

  2. thank you for posting, this is wonderful! i completely agree with you. my little (16mos) didn’t officially start walking until he was about 13 months old which was a little later than some other kids his age that we know. i wasn’t worried. i’ve noticed that his way of developing milestones is that he kind of practices doing them, doesn’t do them for a while, and then literally one day just up and does it and keeps going. having worked at a montessori preschool my motto is “at this age, their job is just to discover their environment”!

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap September 26, 2013 at 9:50 am

      Oh, I love that motto! I have a couple of friends who are doing the Montessori floor bed–so cool.

  3. Charlotte– I watched an episode of Modern Family at the gym yesterday, and in the episode a woman was asking Cam about Lily’s milestones. Funny you should post this today, because it struck me as incredibly rude for someone to question why your child isn’t performing some milestone. There is no correct timing, and you’re right, putting them in that box limits them more in the long run. Good for you that you’re not pushing Jack now. Some things just need to happen naturally.

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap September 26, 2013 at 9:52 am

      Thanks, Nanette! People feel free to say all kinds of things when you’re pregnant/parenting. I guess because so many people have experienced it they all feel like they’re experts!

  4. Oh yes. I agree with so much here, Charlotte. While T and I have not really actively, by-name chosen this style of parenting–it more or less just falls into line with how we, as adults are, and what we value for our children.

    I didn’t sweat what or how Ezra was “academically” learning in preschool. Our goal for him there was to learn about kindness, sympathy, empathy and perhaps a bit of self-control in a group as well as how to socially maneuver in a classroom.

    As for Iris, it was a bit different. Due to her extreme prematurity, we did teach her how to do things like sit-up, crawl and walk in order for her to catch-up just to the lower end of the milestones timeline applied to other kids. But, you know, she’s almost four and not even remotely interested in potty training–and I don’t care all that much. I figure she’ll do it on her own time (pretty much like everything else despite our and the therapists’ assistance) and that she won’t be in 5th grade and not potty trained.

    It’s all going to be a-okay. :)

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap September 26, 2013 at 9:59 am

      Wow, I didn’t realize that you had a preemie! Everything you said about Ezra is spot on for me. That’s what I want for Jack!

  5. I’m glad you posted this because I can relate to it so much as a young mom to my first child. It seems like everyone who is already a mom is some great expert and while I know advice and concerns come from a good place, I always feel judged and get defensive when people offer/express them. My almost 3-y/o son didn’t walk until 14-1/2 months. His older cousin walked at 11-1/2. I sometimes would compare his milestones to everyone else and would worry. Then I just turn it off. I’m around him more than anyone else, so I know that he is learning and always trying to figure things out. At 13-1/2 months my dad tried teaching him to walk and I didn’t interfere because they rarely get a bonding moment, but I wasn’t concerned with teaching him. Lo and behold, when he was finally ready while playing in his room, he let go of the table and took 12 fairly steady steps to his toybox.
    He’s not as talkative as other kids his age and I used to let it worry me. I’d go online to see how many words he could say. I even kept a word document of a master list of words he could say. Finally, again, I let go and realize I wasn’t helping him. I realized that I was adding more and more words every day. He was progressing. He could communicate what he wanted and that’s what was most important. No, he’s not as chatty as other kids, but he’s getting there.
    One thing I’ve noticed is when you stand back and let them learn on their own, they have such a great sense of accomplishment in themselves that just doesn’t happen when they’re doing something to make adults happy.
    I should also add that despite being slow to walk and talk, he’s incredibly kind, compassionate, mannerly and loving. If someone falls down, he runs up and says “Are you okay?” He (at not even 3), will offer a hand to help elderly friends and neighbors stand up out of chairs and cars. He says thank you for everything: to trees for providing shelter from the sun and rain, to cars for stopping so he can cross the road, to cashiers for handing him his new car. He says please and you’re welcome, and hugs and loves everything so much. And these things make me prouder of him than learning to walk earlier ever could have.
    Sorry for such a long comment, but this post really struck me. BTW, as a parent, it’s also totally okay to say “It’s none of your business.”

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap September 26, 2013 at 10:01 am

      You hit the nail on the head–I want him to experience that sense of accomplishment and not feel pressure from me to do something he’s not ready for. Your boy sounds like such a sweetie. My heart melts imagining a little boy saying thank you to the trees!

  6. I don’t have kids so I’m not going to comment on the actual content of the post per se, but, I did want you to know that this was really well-written. I can understand how difficult it probably was to write the post.

  7. Charlotte, lots of good sense in this post! It is nice to see a young mother who doesn’t let herself be pushed around by the very judgmental Mommy Culture that seems to be the prevailing wind…

    At some point you will have to do a post about that very secret longing mothers have that their beloved kids will turn out to be the brightest and the best….and how hard it is to keep a steady head!

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap September 26, 2013 at 10:03 am

      The Mommy Culture gets to me every now and then and sometimes I catch myself being more judgmental or bitter than I’d like, but it’s something I’m constantly working on. And you are so right–we do all want them to be the brightest and the best! I have to remind myself that it’s okay for him to just be whatever he is.

  8. I agree. You should do it your way and Jack should do things in his own time. I worked in an infant center when my youngest was that age. It was difficult not to compare. My son was not a communicator as his sister was or as some of his friends were. He still isn’t. Some things have nothing to do with ability but have much to do with personality. Early walking, potty training, talking are not indications of intelligence. As a retired teacher, I would rather have had students in my class who were calm, content and therefore ready to learn. Now, if I can just keep my mouth shut as the grandchildren are being raised, I will stay on good terms with my own kids. LOL

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap September 26, 2013 at 10:05 am

      I imagine it must be really hard with grandkids! It’s nice to hear your perspective as an educator and a parent. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I generally try not to judge other people’s choices in parenting (unless they are harmful, of course) so I hope this doesn’t come out as criticism, I’m just genuinely confused. At what point do you draw the line in allowing your child to figure it out on his own? Are you not going to help him learn how to pronounce certain words correctly or help him learn to read because he should be able to ‘figure it out on his own’ eventually? Helping our children learn to walk is not doing it for them or a handicap, it’s kind of our job.

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap September 26, 2013 at 10:32 am

      This is a hard question, and you’re not the first person to ask it. I guess I feel like walking and talking are two skills that are best learned by just observing. Jack currently calls most animals “dah” which means dog, but instead of telling him he’s wrong I just repeat it correctly. Reading is a more complex skill that requires direct instruction, but I still hope to be able to let him discover the joy of reading without a lot of pressure from me. In short, I don think that kids need to be taught to walk or talk–it’s something that will develop naturally just by watching and listening others–but there’s a reason why we go to school to learn reading, math, etc..

  10. Walking and talking are instinctive. They will come with time when a child is ready. Reading, pronunciation, etc are learned skills. Completely different.

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